Walkerton water trouble may go back months

A company that used to test Walkerton's water supply says there was evidence of a problem four months before the deadliest E. coli outbreak in Canadian history.

The president of GAP EnviroMicrobial Services, Garry Palmateer, says that a test done in January turned up evidence of coliform an indication that surface water was seeping into the well water.

Palmateer says that subsequent tests showed coliform. He says his company notified the Ministry of Environment about the problem five times.

His company got out of the water testing business at the beginning of this month, and therefore did not test for the E. coli that led to so many people getting sick in Walkerton.

For days, people in Walkerton have been demanding to know when officials suspected that there was something wrong with the water in their community, about 200 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

The local medical health office has accused the Public Utility Commission of not passing on lab results that confirmed the water was contaminated with E. coli.

Crews have been flushing and disinfecting the town's water system in an attempt to purge the area of the bacteria. It could be at least another week before tap water in Walkerton is declared safe to drink again.

People now ill in cities

There's word the outbreak is affecting people in some other areas of Ontario.

Authorities suspect people getting sick in Windsor, London and Kitchener passed through the Walkerton area recently, drank the water and then returned home.

The medical officer for the Hamilton-Wentworth region is not taking any chances. People in the small town of Freelton have been ordered to boil water after E. coli bacteria was found in pipes.

The Walkerton crisis is a concern outside of Ontario. People from the United States who visited the town recently have been calling the Hartley House Hotel, asking if they were served tap water during their stay. They were.

Police are now investigating the crisis. The outbreak is believed to be the deadliest of its kind in Canadian history.

Five people have died in Walkerton, and 12 residents mainly young children remain in hospital in serious or critical condition.

Hundreds of people are ill with severe cramps, fever, nausea, and bloody diarrhea.

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 is fatal in about three per cent of cases. It causes kidney damage in 10 per cent of people who become infected.