South West Water: Brixham Contamination

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am ar 20 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

On Monday 13 May, South West Water was notified by the UK Health Security Agency of cryptosporidium cases in the Brixham area. South West Water undertook monitoring from Monday evening into Tuesday, with the results on Wednesday morning identifying crypto in the Hillhead distribution area. A boil notice was issued for customers on Wednesday 15 May to cover both the Hillhead area and the Alston area. I know that has caused considerable concern and disruption to the local community.

To date, UKHSA has identified at least 46 confirmed cases of cryptosporidium but, given that symptoms may take up to 10 days to emerge, obviously that number may continue to rise. Two people have been hospitalised. Two bottled water stations were initially opened on Thursday 16 May, and in my call with the chief executive on Friday, I requested that a third be opened and the hours extended, both of which then happened effective from Saturday.

I also raised concerns with the chief executive, including those shared with me by my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster) about inadequate compensation. That was raised to £150 for residents in the Alston supply area and has now gone up to £215 for those continuing to be affected in the Alston area. A helpline has been established for businesses and I requested that it work with local MPs to streamline the process. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries visited the community on Friday.

Some 16,000 properties were initially subject to the boil notice, but 85% of them—32,000 residents in 14,500 properties that receive their water from the Alston reservoir—have now had the boil notice lifted. Not only have all the tests on the Alston reservoir been clear, but South West Water says that the positive test of the valve supports its contention that the most likely cause is downstream of that reservoir. If that is the case, those 85% of residents were never subject to any water issues and the boil notice was applied on a precautionary basis. Notwithstanding that, I am sure that there will be ongoing concern, so daily testing of that water will continue for the foreseeable future.

The Hillhead reservoir has now been drained, cleaned and refilled. A flush of the network, which aims to remove traces of cryptosporidium detected in the system, was started this morning. We are working with South West Water and the Drinking Water Inspectorate, recognising the ongoing disruption to the remaining 15% of residents. I know that South West Water will want to comply fully and in a timely fashion with the investigation of the Drinking Water Inspectorate.