Ont. police to probe Walkerton water deaths

The Ontario Provincial Police force has been asked to conduct a criminal investigation into what's believed to be Canada's deadliest outbreak of bacteria in drinking water.

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, claimed a fifth victim in Walkerton, Ont. Thursday. At least 10 people remain in critical condition in hospital, and hundreds of others are ill.

Residents of Walkerton have been sick for several days. Many people in the town are demanding to know why they weren't warned about the E. coli outbreak sooner.

Thursday night, the South Bruce-Grey Police said it was asking provincial police investigators to look at whether charges should be laid.

McQuigge says the utility later told his office about the test results, and that a machine which mixes chlorine into the water supply hadn't been working for some time.

The chair of the utility, Jim Kieffer, says one well had a problem with a chlorination unit. He says it was replaced over the weekend.

When asked by reporters if he was told immediately about the E. coli lab result, he said he wasn't. When asked why he wasn't told, he said "I don't know."

E. coli may claim more victims

There are fears that more people will die or get sick because it can take more than a week for symptoms to appear.

As many as 700 people are suffering with symptoms of severe cramps, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and fever.

Mayor Thomson has assured the public the water will not be turned back on until it's clear and clean. Free bottled water is being handed out.

Elderly people and children are the most vulnerable to the E. coli bacteria. Parents of children five years of age or younger are being asked to bring them in for tests, even if the kids show no signs of being sick.

Authorities are advising people in the Walkerton area to boil drinking water for at least five minutes or to drink bottled water.

The province's environment ministry is testing the water supply, trying to determine the source and state of the contamination. It has also launched an investigation.

Officials aren't sure how the outbreak started. There was extensive flooding in the area during a heavy rainstorm nearly two weeks ago. It's possible that sewage, or manure from farmers' fields, leaked into the wells that supply water to the area.

E. coli can be fatal in about three per cent of cases. It causes kidney damage in 10 per cent of people who become infected.