Devon dirty water crisis latest: Residents told to boil water after 22 cases of diarrhoea bug

A waterborne disease caused by a microscopic parasite has sparked a sickness bug outbreak in Brixham on the south coast.

Broadsands Car Park, Brixham, Devon, UK. 15th May, 2024. South West Water handing out emergency rations of bottled water to anyone affected by the Cryptosporidium outbreak in Torbay. It comes as 22 cases of illness caused by the parasite have been confirmed in two areas of Brixham, with residents suffering from diarrhoea and sickness. Credit: nidpor/Alamy Live News
South West Water workers hand out emergency rations of bottled water to anyone affected by the Cryptosporidium outbreak in Torbay. (Alamy)

Thousands of households in south Devon have been told to boil tap water before drinking it as officials investigate a disease that causes sickness and diarrhoea.

South West Water has refused to confirm how long this advice will last for, with local MP Anthony Mangnall saying it will likely be up to a week.

Health officials have said 22 cases of cryptosporidium, a waterborne disease caused by a microscopic parasite, had been confirmed in Brixham.

The situation in Devon appears to be worsening, with other reported cases of diarrhoea and vomiting. More confirmed cases of cryptosporidium are expected.

It comes amid wider concerns about the state of the UK's water quality as MPs were warned on Wednesday that "somebody is going to die". Asked about the current state of UK rivers, Charles Watson, chairman of River Action UK, said: “The public is not safe.”

Yahoo has paused its ongoing coverage of the situation in Devon. Please go to our homepage for all the latest news.

  • What is the current advice for using tap water?

    South West Water is asking customers in the affected areas "to not drink their tap water without first boiling it and allowing it to cool. This applies to water used for drinking, cooking, preparing food or brushing teeth.

    "Boiled water can be stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

    "Tap water can be used for washing, bathing and toilet flushing."

  • Here's more from Laura Flowerdew of South West Water on the cause of the outbreak

  • NEW: South West Water refuses to say when boil water notice will be lifted after disease outbreak

    A South West Water boss has refused to give a timeline on when a notice to boil tap water will be lifted after a parasite was found in a key reservoir.

    Speaking to Sky News, Laura Flowerdue, the company's chief customer officer, confirmed the suggestion it was likely caused by a broken air valve that had been contaminated by animal faeces.

    However, she refused to give a timeframe on how long the incident would run on for - leaving locals facing an uncertain future.

    Read more from Sky News here

  • 'My wife has been ill for 16 days'


    Chaz Attwood, who lives near the affected reservoir, told Sky News his wife has diabetes and has been ill for 16 days after drinking contaminated water.

    "My wife has been drinking water to keep hydrated because she's diabetic and the insulin that she's had to have has doubled, and basically that affected her to start with," he said.

    "So that's made her worse. We're in a dreadful state. She was so weak I even phoned 999, and told the guy what was happening because she'd collapsed."

    Read more from Sky News here

  • Water company boss declined bonus last year

    Susan Davy. (South West Water)
    Susan Davy. (South West Water)

    South West Water's CEO was one of three water company bosses who last year gave up their bonuses in an acknowledgment of the public anger over companies’ dumping of sewage in Britain’s rivers.

    Susan Davy, along with fellow chief executives Nicola Shaw of Yorkshire Water and Sarah Bentley of Thames Water, declined to accept bonuses.

    Davy, who received £522,000 in 2022, said: “This is the right thing to do. We’re listening to our customers, we get it."

    Read more from The Guardian here

  • Sunak calls for probe

    LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves number 10, Downing Street ahead of the weekly PMQ session in the House of Commons on May 15, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
    (Getty Images)

    Rishi Sunak "understands the stress and worry this has caused residents," a Number 10 spokeswoman has said.

    "He’s very clear that this must be investigated thoroughly by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and UK Health Security Agency.

    “Any water company that’s found to be in breach of rules on drinking water should expect to face the appropriate enforcement action up to and including criminal prosecution.”

    The government has announced a quadrupling of inspections and provided increased powers to Ofwat and the Environment Agency to hold water companies to account, the spokeswoman added.

  • What has South West Water said about the crisis?

    Laura Flowerdew, South West Water’s chief customer and digital officer, said: “We sincerely apologise for the impact this is having on our customers in the Brixham and Alston areas.

    “Protecting the health of our customers and providing them with a clean, fresh drinking water supply is our number one priority and we will continue to work around the clock to make sure that happens as soon as possible.”

  • Local MP: Water company's response 'very concerning'


    Anthony Mangnall, the Tory MP for Totnes and South Devon, said: "I am very concerned about South West Water's response to this situation, as they have been slow to act and communication with customers has been very poor.

    "This has certainly undermined trust in our water network, and I will certainly keep working with colleagues at DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] to ensure SWW are held to account over this issue."

    Mangnall has also said people will need to carry on boiling tap water for the next week (see earlier post further down this page).

  • Water company was fined £2m last year

    South West Water has previously come under fire over its performance, having been fined £2.15m in April last year for illegal sewage spills spanning four years across Devon and Cornwall.

    That was the largest ever fine imposed for environmental offences in the region.

    According to an Environment Agency press release, "inaccurate and inadequate operational procedures led to harmful chemicals escaping from SWW sites on more than one occasion which resulted in significant environmental damage, including sites at Kilmington on the River Axe and in Crediton on the River Creedy.

    "Following the spill at Kilmington, thousands of fish died in the River Axe, including some protected species."

    The company had pleaded guilty to 13 charges: six for illegal water discharge activities and seven for contravening environmental permit conditions.

  • 'Worried - because there are so many elderly people down here'

    Here's what people in Brixham, interviewed by Sky News, think of the situation...

  • ‘Somebody is going to die’: MPs warned of pathogens in England’s rivers

    Amid the dirty water crisis in Devon, MPs were separately warned on Wednesday that “somebody is going to die” due to the state of England’s rivers.

    At an Environmental Audit Committee session on general water quality and infrastructure in the country, Charles Watson, chairman of River Action UK, said: “The public is not safe.

    “Temperatures are warming up, it’s half-term in three weeks’ time. Tens of thousands of families are going to be in the rivers, on our beaches, going to lakes, none of which have bathing status protections.

    “I’m not exaggerating, somebody is going to die because of this pathogen level. Nobody seems to be interested in it. The water companies won’t give any public health guidance on it.”

  • Primary school closure in affected area

    A primary school closed on Thursday due to not having drinking water.

    Torbay Council said Eden Park Primary School was the only school which closed in the area.

    It said its public health team had been issuing guidance about cryptosporidium to schools about its symptoms, treatments and precautions that should be taken.

    South West Water is also delivering bottled water to schools and nurseries as well as continuing to distribute to their priority list.”

  • South West Water handing out bottled water

    Broadsands Car Park, Brixham, Devon, UK. 15th May, 2024. South West Water handing out emergency rations of bottled water to anyone affected by the Cryptosporidium outbreak in Torbay. It comes as 22 cases of illness caused by the parasite have been confirmed in two areas of Brixham, with residents suffering from diarrhoea and sickness. Credit: nidpor/Alamy Live News

    The company has set up two bottled water collection points at Broadsands Car Park, in Paignton and Fresh Water Quarry Public Car Park in Brixham.

  • 'People are panic buying bottled water'

    Harry Whitlock, who works at Albero, a seafood restaurant in the heart of Brixham, said they've had to order in increased amounts of bottled water - and that locals are also panic buying.

    He told Yahoo News UK: "We're ordering water in. We haven't seen a huge impact on customer levels yet, but give it a couple of days and that could be different.

    "Ordering water in for the business is fine, but on a personal level it's difficult because you have to have some for yourself, and people are panic buying in the same way they did during COVID."

  • Business owner: 'We have been affected... and compensation is pathetic'

    (Helen Castleton)
    (Helen Castleton)

    Helen Castleton, owner of Cliff Cottage, a self-catering holiday property in Brixham, said her business has been affected by the contaminated water issue as one of her bookings cancelled on Thursday.

    She told Yahoo News UK: "We've had a cancellation but some other business partners I know have had significantly more. It's a worry and I hope they find a quick solution - we're being told it'll take a week.

    "We're being kept informed and we're putting bottled water in for guests, and we sanitise thoroughly anyway, especially since COVID.

    "Compensation would be helpful as it hasn't been easy for us recently with the weather we've been having, meaning people are booking fewer stays - but £100 is pathetic. It's a paltry amount for businesses, and it's not much better for residents either."

    South West Water announced on Thursday it was increasing compensation by £100: from £15 announced initially to £115.

    She continued: "It's dreadful for people who've been affected by it. One of my friends has a compromised immune system and for people like her it's a real concern. If I was a holidaymaker going to Brixham I'm not sure I'd want to go either right now - you don't want to go away and come back ill from the water."

  • MP: People will have to boil their water for the next week

    Anthony Mangnall. (PA)
    Anthony Mangnall. (PA)

    Anthony Mangnall, the Conservative MP for Totnes and South Devon, has said South West Water has located the source of the Brixham cryptosporidium contamination... but that the boil water notice is likely to be in place for a further week.

    Posting about a meeting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, South West Water and the UK Health Security Agency, Mangnall posted on Facebook: "SWW believe they have located the source of the issue and initiated a fix, but are continuing their investigations and will be testing their network to ensure water is safe.

    "The boil water notice is therefore likely to be in place for at least a further 6 or 7 days, with bottled water available throughout this period."

  • What should people do if they are ill?

    The UK Health Security Agency says: “Anyone with a diarrhoeal illness should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and if they have severe symptoms like bloody diarrhoea, they should contact NHS 111 or their GP surgery."

    People who catch the disease should stay off school or work for 48 hours after they stop being ill, and away from swimming pools for 14 days.

  • Customers get £100 more compensation

    Some 16,000 households and businesses in Brixham will be getting £100 more in compensation from South West Water than was originally announced.

    When the company issued its notice on Wednesday advising people not to use their tap water for drinking or washing without boiling and cooling it first, customers were told they would be given £15 compensation.

    Today, South West Water said it will increase the compensation by £100, to £115, "to say sorry for the stress and worry the situation has caused".

    This will be paid automatically to customers.

    The company also suggested there is scope for compensation to increase as it will "continue to keep the level of compensation under review".

  • What is cryptosporidium?

    Cryptosporidium is a waterborne disease caused by a microscopic parasite.

    Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, dehydration and weight loss and fever. These can last for two to three weeks.

    The UK Health Security Agency says anyone can get the disease but it is most common in young children between one and five years old, and most healthy people will recover fully.

    It can be picked up directly from the faeces of another person or animal, from swimming in or drinking contaminated water, or even by eating contaminated food such as unwashed vegetables.

    Cryptosporidium in manure can contaminate fields, rivers and crops, officials warn.