Volume 95, Issue 40
Tuesday, November 13, 2001
Walkerton doc issues warning
"We can no longer be confident in our water"
By Joel Brown
Canadians should be fearful of their water if major changes are not made to the current supply system said the doctor first notified about E. coli infections in Walkerton.
Dr. Murray McQuigge spoke of his experiences during the Walkerton crisis and what he believes needs to be done to prevent further incidents at a seminar hosted by Western's department of epidemiology and biostatistics Friday afternoon. McQuigge is the medical officer of health for the Grey-Bruce Health Unit, which governs the town of Walkerton.
"We can no longer be confident in our water sources," he said. "I don't think there's a river or lake in Canada that doesn't have some degree of contamination."
McQuigge was the first at the health unit to be notified of patients in the Walkerton area who were experiencing cases of bloody diarrhea and thus, initiated the investigation.
"These infections had never happened in North America before," he said. "[The form of E. coli that made its way into the water system] may be the deadliest toxin on the planet, for even a tiny amount can wreak havoc on human bodies."
According to McQuigge, 2,050 people showed signs of illness and seven died as a result of E. coli infection.
"It never should have happened in an industrial nation," he said.
Since the crisis, McQuigge has travelled across Canada, the United States, England and Japan to speak about the Walkerton crisis.
He has been telling people the government will have to take the central role in improving the infrastructure of the water system to ensure no further contamination occurs.
"If there's any business the government should be in, it's to protect the health and safety of its citizens," McQuigge said. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
"I believe government resources have been pared down to the point of risking public health," he said. "Doing more with less? We've actually ended up doing less with less."
While he believes there is a need for the government to facilitate improvements in the system, McQuigge said citizens need to be the driving force behind any change.
"The cold war showed we were willing to fight a war that never came, but we don't seem to have the same desire to arm ourselves for something that happens everyday," he said.
A final report detailing what and who is at fault is expected to be released by the provincial government next April.
Fourth-year microbiology student Kyle Cunnigham said he was surprised the Walkerton crisis had not initiated more public outcry.
"The government's not doing enough. I'm surprised the Walkerton situation hasn't made them more responsive," he said.
Western health economics professor Jeffrey Hoch organized the seminar and said it is part of a speaker series looking into various issues facing the medical community.
"It's a great opportunity to hear distinguished speakers talk about fascinating ideas in an understandable way," he said
Copyright © The Gazette 2001