Walkerton Inquiry: Private lab didn't report bad results

Health authorities in Walkerton could have detected deadly e-coli contamination in the town's water supply much sooner had the law been tougher.

That testimony came Monday morning at the Walkerton tainted water inquiry from a former Chief Medical officer of health for Ontario. Dr. Richard Schabas told the judicial probe he campaigned unsuccessfully during the late 1990's to get the province to toughen its water laws.

He got Minister of Health, Jim Wilson, to write to the environment minister asking for a change in water regulations. Schabas wanted private labs to be required to report any and all water problems to health authorities by law.

Environment Minister Norm Sterling wrote back saying voluntary guidelines were fine. The problem occurred when private labs weren't following the voluntary rules.

A month before Walkerton's deadly contamination a private lab, and the local Ministry of Environment office, failed to tell Walkerton's local health unit about findings of water contamination.

Schabas told the inquiry if the health unit had known about those earlier bad results they would have clued into the e-coli much sooner. "The index of suspicion would be higher with knowledge that very recently, a month before, there had been significant enough deficiencies to cause a situation that I believe meets the criteria for unsafe drinking water," testified Schabas.

Environment Minister Norm Sterling, who did not tighten water regulations, is to testify at the inquiry on Wednesday.