Two people in hospital following parasite outbreak

men fixing drain
South West Water (SWW) said it was "working 24 hours a day" to return all its customers to clean and safe water. [BBC]

Two people have been taken to hospital after a parasite outbreak in Brixham, Devon, the Environment Secretary has confirmed.

Steve Barclay said in response to an urgent question in the Commons on the contamination, that the situation had caused "considerable concern and disruption to the local community".

South West Water said it believed a damaged air valve on private land was the cause for the outbreak of the waterborne disease cryptosporidium.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said 46 cases of cryptosporidium had been confirmed.

'Totally unacceptable'

Mr Barclay said “...but given symptoms may take up to 10 days to emerge, obviously that may continue to rise."

Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall, whose Totnes constituency covers Brixham, said the situation was "totally unacceptable" in the 21st Century.

He said: "The anger in Brixham is palpable, the frustration is apparent, and the sheer inconvenience that has been put on them by South West Water is absolutely abhorrent.

"For 24 hours people were still able to drink the water, South West Water continued to say there was no problem.

“The reason that people are ill and 46 is most certainly an underestimation, is because of that time period in which people were able to go on drinking it."

In the Commons, Labour accused the government of letting water companies “pump a tidal wave of raw sewage” into the system.

But Mr Barclay accused Labour of political “knockabout” as he told the House of Commons farmyard waste was a likely cause of the parasite outbreak, which authorities were investigating.

People collecting bottled water at Broadsands Car Park in Paignton
South West Water has bottled water stations open to customers across the Brixham area [PA Media]

Mr Mangnall told the Commons that it was "still wholly unacceptable that Hillhead reservoir and residents of that area, the 8,000 of them are still dependent on bottled water and cannot trust their water systems".

He called for an investigation into South West Water's handling, and said the "damaged reputation that has been suffered by businesses and the community of Brixham needs to be addressed".

On Tuesday, the water company said tap water in the town was safe to drink, but U-turned less than 24 hours later.

On Friday, South West Water CEO Susan Davy apologised for the outbreak and said it had "fallen significantly short".

Erica Sherratt
Erica Sherratt said she was ill on holiday [BBC]

Erica Sherratt said she had drunk contaminated water in Brixham and was then ill on holiday in Rhodes.

She said: "It started with diarrhoea, I wasn't too concerned at first.

"Then came the dizziness, I was feeling I was going to pass out.

"Then the vomiting started, uncontrollable.

"I spent the first three or four days on my balcony, unable to go out."

'Impact on tourism'

The water company said compensation for households had been increased to £215 for about 2,500 of its customers still subject to boil water advice in the Hillhead, upper Brixham and Kingswear areas.

Any businesses affected by the incident should call a dedicated line 03332 343293 from 09:00 to 17:00 BST Monday to Friday.

David Harris, incident director at the firm, said it was aware the situation was "already having an impact on tourism ahead of the Bank Holiday weekend and stand ready to support our local traders and businesses".

A drone view of Hill Head reservoir in Devon
South West Water said it believed a damaged air valve on private land was the cause for the outbreak [PA Media]

Laura Flowerdew, South West Water's chief customer officer, said the company had appealed for affected businesses to get in contact so “we can talk to them directly”.

She said: “We do appreciate this has had a significant impact on local businesses, we want to deal with that on a case-by-case basis to make sure we understand the impact on each individual business."

Ms Flowerdew said it was expecting the situation “to continue for a number of days yet”.

She said: “We want to absolutely make sure that public health is a priority so we need to get some clear days of sampling through to make sure that there is nothing left in the network that could cause any harm.

“We are doing our best to fix it as quickly as possible but at this point we need to focus on getting the work done and looking at those samples as they come through.”

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