Several thousand local residents in western Norway have fallen ill after the water from the drinking water reservoir in Askøy, a coastal island of Norway near the city of Bergen, was found to have been contaminated with three types of intestinal bacteria, including E-coli bacteria, TV2 reported.
Over 40 Askøy residents, including at least 12 children, have been admitted to hospital with signs of bacterial infection. The death of a one-year-old boy has also been tied to the contaminated water.
The number of residents reporting severe stomach upset went through the roof over the weekend, with around 2,000 people now registered as suffering from nausea, vomiting, stomach pains and diarrhoea. Some people have fallen ill even after boiling all their water for consumption, and several have been admitted to Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen because of severe dehydration.
“I estimate that several thousand more are sick in addition to those who we have received feedback from,” councillor Eystein Venneslan told local newspaper Bergensavisen.
Three epidemiologists from the state public health institute arrived in Askøy on Sunday to help the island community of less than 25,000 people mitigate the water crisis, which the municipality admitted to have no control over.
“This is an epidemic and it is still active,” acting mayor Bård Espelid told TV2. “We have all sympathy and understanding for the inhabitants who feel both angry and disappointed. There is no doubt that the municipality has failed as a supplier of good and safe water,” he added.
Local health authorities have called on residents to boil all water before consumption, recommending that they avoid having long baths and limit themselves to a shower. The exact cause of the epidemic has not been established yet.
The Kleppe Waterworks in Askøy, the source of the contaminated water, includes a system of reservoirs and storage pools. Askøy’s acting mayor confirmed that no water tests have been taken recently in the areas where the bacteria was found.
“We routinely take tests of the water distribution system once a week,” Espelid explained state broadcaster NRK. “The testing points are based on a risk evaluation, but now we see that the upper pool hasn’t been included in the routine, he said, adding “I don’t know the last time it was checked.” According to the acting mayor, “it may have been several years since the last tests were taken at that pool, but we now must learn from what’s happened and it must be included in the programme.”
The upper pool of Askøy’s Kleppe Waterworks has a capacity of 500 cubic meters of water, or around 500,000 litres.