Wake-up call for Walkerton

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					Wake-Up Call For Walkerton
  Walkerton Scandal: Sequence of
  Events (2000)
May 17: Residents complain of bloody diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, fever
-- classic symptoms of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacterial poisoning.

Tests of water sampled May 15 reveal E. coli contamination. Water
manager (Stan Koebel) fails to notify public or public health office. First
signs show up in children (many fail to attend school and two are
admitted to hospital with bloody diarrhea)

May 19-21: Hundreds fall ill; Koebel fails to report knowledge of
elevated E. coli levels in water to health authorities.

Public utilities commission reports to public that water is safe (based on
information supplied by Koebel)
2000

May 21: Public health unit begins independent water testing, issues boil-
water advisory.

May 22: First death directly linked to E. coli.

May 23: Health unit tests reveal water contaminated with deadly E. coli
O157:H7. Two-year-old girl dies, more than 150 people seek hospital
treatment, another 500 complain of symptoms.

May 24: Medical officer of health, Dr. Murray McQuigge, declares E. coli
outbreak Canada's worst. Two more die.
2000

May 25: Fifth person dies. At least four children in critical condition.
McQuigge declares tragedy preventable. Outside agency takes over water
system. Stan Koebel leaves town, goes on sick leave.

May 26: Tory Premier Mike Harris denies government cuts to blame for
tragedy, points finger at changes made by previous NDP government.
Proposed class-action lawsuit launched. OPP begin probe.

May 29: Sixth death. Province admits knowing for six years water system
flawed; announces new rules to protect drinking water.

May 30: Seventh death.
2000

May 31:Under opposition pressure, Harris orders public inquiry.

June 2: Federal, provincial governments announce financial aid for
those affected by outbreak.

Aug. 26: New drinking-water laws take effect.

Oct. 16: Public inquiry under Justice Dennis O'Connor begins.

Nov. 15: Water utility's secretary-treasurer tells inquiry that Stan
Koebel believed townspeople had food poisoning or flu.

Nov. 16: Province says Walkerton's water clean, but leaves it to
health unit to lift boil-water advisory.
2000

Nov. 17: Koebel resigns with $98,000 severance package.

Nov. 30: Mayor David Thomson bursts into tears at inquiry, recalling
when he learned Stan Koebel withheld crucial information that might
have curtailed the tragedy.

Dec. 6-7: Frank Koebel, water foreman and Koebel's brother, stuns
inquiry with testimony about drinking on the job and routine
falsification of safety tests (including falsification of water sample
locations), failure to properly monitor chlorine levels in water.

Dec. 18-20: Stan Koebel testifies about his reasons for falsification of
safety tests and records, and why he didn't alert authorities to E. coli in
water (partly in response to public complaints about “chlorine taste” in
water- but may have been more to do with knowledge of a broken
chlorinator at well 7).
Year 2001

Jan. 15: Court begins hearing request to certify class-action suit.

March 27: Province picks up $15 million tab for fixing town's water.

April 23: Walkerton council agrees to pay Stan Koebel $82,000 for
severance and vacation plus $5,000 in legal costs.

June 25: Dr. Richard Schabas, former medical officer of health,
testifies he repeatedly told the government that funding cuts would
compromise public health.

June 26: Brenda Elliott, former environment minister, tells inquiry that
the government acted as a team when making decisions around
funding cuts.
2001

June 27: Norm Sterling, also a former environment minister, testifies he
was assured by his senior bureaucrats that any risks to public health
caused by layoffs and budget cuts were manageable.

June 29: Premier Mike Harris testifies he was never warned of risks to
human health posed by funding cuts to the Environment Ministry.

July 3: Inquiry faces first challenge when three local Environment Ministry
officials argue judge has no right to find fault with their conduct. Judge
dismisses challenge.

Aug. 15-27: In closing submissions, lawyers defend their clients, with
government blaming Stan Koebel for tragedy and Koebel saying blame
must be spread to individuals at higher levels.
Year 2002

Jan. 14: O'Connor hands report to government.

Jan. 16: Some details of the report are leaked to The Canadian Press.

Jan. 17: The Ontario government announces it will release the first part of
the report on Jan. 18, 2002, four days ahead of schedule, because of the
leak.

Jan. 18: The report is released in Walkerton. It says the chain of events that
led to the disaster began Stan and Frank Koebel, two brothers responsible
for the town's water, and was compounded by government budget cuts that
undermined the ability of the Ministry of the Environment to pick up on the
brothers' shortcomings.
                     Significant localities in case
 After first signs of outbreak reported, authorities at PUC assured public
 that water was safe (based on info from Koebel)




Well #7
(chlorinator broken, but luckily,
Water uncontaminated)




                                                       Public utilities commission
                                                       (where water was tested)
    (Toronto Star, May 2000)                  Well #5 (contaminated well)
     What is Known ?: Evidence
Water sampled immediately downline from well 5 on May 15,
2000 tested positive for E. coli (as mentioned previously,
Koebel failed to report this)

Most likely source of E. coli contamination: cattle manure
Water sampled on May 23,
2000 from “well 5” consistently
tested positive for E. coli (strain
O157:H7) whereas other the
wells negative (so
contamination sourced to one
location)


DNA typing indicating a match
between strains of bacteria (C.
jejuni and E. coli) in
contaminated water supply and
at a farm near “well 5.”
How did contaminated water get into the town
water supply in the first place ?
                      Torrential downpours between May 8
                      and 12, 2000 washed bacteria from
                      cattle manure into well 5. Most
                      people probably infected on May 12
                      when rainfall was highest and E. coli
                      had reached critical concentrations.

                      Note: Farmer who owned farm near
                      well 5 was deemed innocent of any
                      wrongdoing as he followed accepted
                      guidelines for spreading of manure
Long before
scandal, geological
circumstances
indicated that
Walkerton water
supply was at great
risk of
contamination.

Government-
approved wells 3, 6
and 7 lie on thin,
permeable deposits
of sand and gravel
atop very permeable
limestone (also, well
5 near a high-risk
area).
Recent Developments

 Frank and Stan Koebel, the two brothers at
 the centre of Walkerton's water tragedy,
 pleaded guilty to “common nuisance” on
 Nov. 30, 2004.

 “Common nuisance” = failure to carry out a
 legal duty and endangers the lives, safety,
 health, property or comfort of the public.

 Judge O'Connor also stated that Ontario's
 Conservative government was partly to
 blame for failing to properly assess the risks
 attached to its cost-cutting measures in the
 area of ensuring acceptable water quality .
December 20, 2004 - Sentencing

Stan Koebel sentenced to 1 year in jail (received greater blame on
account of delaying boil water advisory).

Frank Koebel was sentenced to 6 months house arrest and 3
months night curfews.

April 8, 2005 – Koebel Granted Parole

Stan Koebel granted parole (serving less than 4 months of 1 year
sentence). Parole granted early parole on grounds that Koebel
was a first-time offender and had shown remorse.
So…
Aside from the wrongdoing of Koebel, and Conservative
government greater care should have been taken to choose
water well sites. Wells drilled into areas underlain by
permeable soil, sediment and bedrock are highly prone to
surface contamination.

Rudimentary knowledge of geology can go a long way in
preventing disasters like this!
                   And yet…as of November, 2005
Following evacuations of Kashechewan in northern
Ontario in late 2005 (due medical problems
associated with water contamination), it has been
found that 37 native reserve communities (out of a
total of 123) are currently on boil water advisories in
Ontario.

Many of the medical problems (including skin
disorders) are related to the huge amounts of
chlorine used to treat bacteria in the contaminated
water (and the treatment plants tend not to run
efficiently).

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper called Indian
Affairs Minister Andy Scott "incompetent“ for his
slow action on the matter (here we go again) .
END OF LECTURE

				
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