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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK


Sewage claim over E. coli death

Heather Preen died after picking up E.coli bug

Public health officials in Devon have rejected claims that a teenage girl's death from E. coli food poisoning was linked to a discharge of sewage near a local beach.

Surfers Against Sewage's Chris Hines: "Sewage was likely source of infection"
Environmental pressure group Surfers Against Sewage says there is fresh evidence that the death of schoolgirl Heather Preen, from E. coli food poisoning, was linked to sewage she encountered on a visit to the beach in July.

Children in three other families who visited the resort contracted the bug and recovered, but the local health authority denies there is a link between the outbreak and a sewage outfall 1.5km from the beach.

[ image: Effects of E.coli are normally mild, but can lead to kidney failure and death]
Effects of E.coli are normally mild, but can lead to kidney failure and death
Chris Hines, general secretary of Surfers Against Sewage, said: "There were discharges of sewage over the promenade in Dawlish town itself on the 22nd, 24th and 29th of July.

"This was exactly the time the family were in the area and they confirmed they walked through this sewage.

"There were no signs displayed, even though the health authority, the Environment Agency, the local council and South West Water were all aware of it.

"This development would clearly be a very likely source of infection, we would say."

'No evidence' of a link

South West Water has admitted that sewage related debris which had blocked a pipe was washed out through a storm overflow during construction work on 24 July, and some flowed onto the beach.

Dr Gill Lewenden on BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "This was a one-off"
But Dr Gill Lewenden, a public health doctor with South and West Devon Health Authority, said an investigation had found "no evidence" that the discharge caused the cluster of cases.

She told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that the sewage leak had occurred at the time the families were in Dawlish Warren, but had been cleaned up quickly and was a "one off".

"An investigation by the Environment Agency at the time does show that the total number of organisms around the water at Dawlish Warren on that date was very low indeed.

"That would suggest we did not have a major sewage contamination on that date."

'Worrying' situation

[ image:  ]
Dr Lewenden said recent cases had sparked a rethink of the Environment Agency's testing procedure.

She said: "When they do the tests it is usually for the total coliform count, but since the cluster of cases we have been specifically asking the laboratory to look out for E. coli 0157.

"To date the samples have all been negative, but it is worrying, I will agree."

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