Water company under fire over scare

ANGLIAN Water faced criticism last night over the way it handled a scare which saw thousands of people warned not to use their tap water.The alert, which led to 5,000 people being handed emergency water supplies, was called off yesterday evening after tests showed there was no health risk from mains supplies.

By David Green

ANGLIAN Water faced criticism last night over the way it handled a scare which saw thousands of people warned not to use their tap water.

The alert, which led to 5,000 people being handed emergency water supplies, was called off yesterday evening after tests showed there was no health risk from mains supplies.

But those involved in the incident, which affected houses on the Suffolk-Norfolk border, have criticised the warning method - cards pushed through doors and left in letterboxes, rather than personal calls.


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One woman, who asked not to be named, said: “It was only by chance my husband saw the card about 11 pm. During the evening I had drunk several glasses of water.”

Anglian Water staff had worked flat out during the early hours of yesterday morning to distribute a total of 17,000 litres of bottled water to 2,500 homes and businesses.

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The scare began on Wednesday when routine tests on a newly commissioned stretch of water main revealed possible contamination of supplies.

Water company staff spent the evening distributing cards warning local residents that it was unsafe to use tap water for drinking, cooking, preparing food and cleaning teeth.

The cards also warned people in Harleston, Needham, Wortwell and Redenhall not to let pets drink the water.

Schools appeared to have been tipped off about the scare late on Thursday afternoon because staff phoned parents to warn them there would be no meals the next day and to request children brought in their own bottled water.

However, as well as the concern about warning methods, Anglian Water was also criticised by food businesses in Harleston for not supplying sufficient bottled water. Local shops reported panic buying of bottled water throughout the day.

Terry Beales, who runs a butcher's shop in the main street, said only six bottles of water, each containing a litre, had been left for his business.

“We use water constantly in food preparation and cleaning down. It was a good job it was half day closing,” he said.

Anglian Water has for some weeks been working on a new £3.8 million water main for the Harleston area to improve the service to customers and reduce leakage.

As each new stretch is commissioned, the water is tested to ensure it meets regulatory standards.

The latest tests took place on supplies passing through the new main between the water treatment works at Harleston and the water tower to the south of the town.

Technicians noticed the water was cloudy and the alarm was subsequently raised.

About 50 Anglian Water staff were drafted into the area in the early hours of yesterday morning to help distribute bottled water.

Sara Rowland , Anglian Water spokeswoman, said: “We took this action as a precaution. We suspect some clay got into the main and made the water cloudy.

“It is always a very difficult call to make when deciding whether to take emergency action but we never take any risk with public health.”

Responding to the criticism over the company's handling of the incident, she said staff had been obliged to visit homes in a large rural area and personal calls could have led to long delays in information reaching some people.

“We apologise for any inconvenience and if any lessons can be learned they will be, in the cause of good customer relations,” she added.

Staff were last night distributing “all clear” cards at homes throughout the area advising people that the mains water was safe to drink.

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