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Polluted water kills four in Walkerton

The Story

Four people are dead and hundreds of others are sick in Walkerton, Ont. A strain of the powerful E. coli bacteria has polluted the town's drinking water. Residents first began experiencing symptoms one week earlier on May 17, 2000. Hospitals have since been flooded with patients complaining of stomach cramps and diarrhea. It remains a mystery how this happened. Schools and daycares are closed. Restaurants and bars are open for business but there are but a few brave patrons. Orange emergency helicopter ambulances descend on the town to airlift critically ill patients to a larger, specialized hospital in neighbouring London, Ont. Walkerton residents are distressed and demand to know why they weren't told earlier. Town officials are on the defensive and medical officers are baffled by this growing epidemic, as reported in this CBC News report. 

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: May 24, 2000
Guest(s): Graham Pollett, Pam Schlosser, Jennifer Stewart, David Thomson, Dianne Warram
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Raj Ahluwalia
Duration: 4:32

Did You know?

• E. coli is the short form for the bacteria Escherichia coli. This species of bacteria thrives in the intestines of mammals.

• Dr. Murray McQuigge, the regional medical officer of health for the Grey-Bruce Health Unit, wrote in his final report on the tragedy that 2,300 people became sick after drinking the tainted water. Of this total, 1,286 of the stricken were residents of Walkerton -- a staggering 26 per cent of the town's total population.
• Walkerton's emergency room treated 725 people in the last two weeks of May -- more than double the average traffic the emergency room normally sees.

• McQuigge estimated that if an event like this had taken place in New York or Paris, 4 million people would have become sick and 14,000 would have died.

• As of May 24, 2000, the time of this report, four people had died. The timeline unfolded as follows:
- Lenore Al, 66, died May 22, 2000
- Edith Pearson, 83, and Mary Rose Raymond, 2, died May 23
- Vera Coe, 75, died May 24
- Laura Rowe, 84, died May 29
- Betty Trushinski, 56, died May 30
- Evelyn Hussey, 84, died of kidney failure as a result of the E. coli poisoning on July 25, 2000

• Water management in Canada is a responsibility shared by the province and the municipalities.
• Walkerton is situated 150 kilometres northwest of Toronto. In 2000, Walkerton's population was numbered at 4,800.
• One day after this report, medical health officials revealed that human negligence was the cause of the outbreak, as shown in this clip.


Death on Tap: The Poisoning of Walkerton more