Monday, May 30, 2005

New health woes emerge in Walkerton

Residents exposed to tainted water show an increase in blood pressure, kidney problems.

Walkerton residents who suffered through the town's tainted water tragedy five years ago are now showing up with new health problems, says a study published yesterday.

The study, led by Dr. Amit Garg of the Lawson Health Research Institute, found adults exposed to the contaminated water have higher rates of high blood pressure and reduced kidney function.

The conditions can lead to serious health problems such as strokes, heart disease and kidney failure.

Garg said the findings show the importance of ensuring drinking water is safe.

"No one before has ever looked at people who had gastrointestinal illness and recovered," he said.

Bruce Davidson, a spokes-person for the Concerned Walkerton Citizens group, said he hopes the scientists' work will drive home the necessity of preventing another Walkerton tragedy.

"This is the greatest fear we have for our children. What does this mean for the future?" Davidson said.

Seven people died and more than 2,600 became ill in May 2000 when the town's water supply was contaminated with E. coli and other bacteria.

The town's public utilities manager, Stan Koebel, was sentenced last year to a year in jail and his brother, Frank, was handed a nine-month sentence to be served in the community for their roles in the tragedy.

Davidson said he runs into people who view Walkerton as a "one-off "incident and question spending money on water safety.

"The real question is what is your life worth to you, what (are) your kidneys worth to you, what is your family worth to you?" he said.

"There is no economic trade-off that justifies this kind of unnecessary poisoning. We simply cannot afford to go down that road again."

Garg's study involved 1,958 adults who had no known history of high blood pressure or kidney disease before the Walkerton outbreak.

Out of the total, 675 remained healthy during the outbreak and didn't show symptoms. Another 909 had moderate symptoms of acute gastroenteritis, such as abdominal pain, some vomiting and diarrhea. The remaining 374 suffered severe symptoms that required medical attention.

In the healthy group, researchers found 27 per cent had high blood pressure.

Garg said that's probably the same results one would find in any closely screened community.

But in the group with moderate symptoms during the outbreak, the number climbed to 32.5 per cent. For the severe group, it was 35.9 per cent.

Garg, in Calgary to present his findings to the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Nephrology, said the increase is significant.

The results were similar for reduced kidney function.

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, and reduced kidney function are both silent conditions that patients don't realize they have unless they're tested, Garg said.

The good news for Walkerton residents is the testing has been done and action can be taken to prevent future health problems, he added.

"By doing this research carefully, we are hopefully on top of the situation."


Post a Comment

<< Home