Office of first minister and deputy first minister – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 18th September 2000.

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Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:15 pm, 18th September 2000

7. asked the Minister for Regional Development what measures have been taken to ensure the highest possible standard of domestic water supply following the recent outbreak of cryptosporidium in Belfast and Lisburn.

(AQO 12/00)

Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance

11. asked the Minister for Regional Development if he will make a statement on the recent outbreak of the cryptosporidium bug in water in parts of Greater Belfast.

(AQO 22/00)

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

Madam Deputy Speaker, with your permission I will take questions 7 and 11 together.

I made a comprehensive statement to the Assembly on 11 September 2000 regarding the cryptosporidium outbreak in the Lisburn and south west Lisburn area. In my statement, I detailed the work that was taking place in investigating possible sources of contamination and in securing the system from any further problems.

I am pleased to be able to report that a meeting of the outbreak control team held today reviewed the latest results of water samples taken from the Lagmore conduit. They are satisfied that the danger has now passed. Work has recently been completed on bypassing part of the Lagmore conduit, where it is believed the water was contaminated, and clean water is now flowing into the Poleglass reservoir and other reservoirs in the area. This has been a worrying incident for people in the area affected, and I regret that many people became ill. In accordance with established procedures, the outbreak control team will be providing a detailed report on the incident. The Water Service will be working closely with the consultant for communicable disease control and other members of the team in doing this. Water supplies are now back to normal, and everyone in the area affected can be assured that tap water is safe to drink and for all-purpose use.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party 3:30 pm, 18th September 2000

I thank the Minister for his statement. However, the public want assurance from him that Water Service officials are going to be asked to examine all pipes and reservoirs to try to minimise the potential for any outbreak of cryptosporidium again. It is very important that the public are reassured that, if there is a breakage in a pipe by a private developer or contractor, it will be immediately examined so that we do not have a problem later.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

I thank the Member for his question, but may I remind him that in Northern Ireland we have 15,000 miles of pipes and a systematic examination of every inch or millimetre is very difficult. I ask the hon Member and the House to bear all of these queries in mind when it comes to the allocation of budget, when it comes to resources that require to be made available in terms of the Water Service. The underfunding that has existed for 30 years has, in part, led to some of the difficulties we are now facing. I expect and hope to get the support for the necessary funds to ensure that we are not faced with any outbreak of a similar nature again.

Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance

Recent information seems to throw doubt on the part of the Minister’s statement which pointed to a particular house and the break in the sewage pipe in Lisburn. If the break into the sewage pipe by a private dwelling was subsequently shown not to have been the cause and the members of that household were not suffering from cryptosporidosis, what, in the Minister’s opinion, was the most likely cause of the outbreak?

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

I assume that Mr Close is referring to a statement made by an environmental health officer of Lisburn Borough Council. The Eastern Board confirmed on Tuesday 12 September that a septic tank remained under consideration as a possible source of a recent outbreak of cryptosporidium in the south-west Belfast and Lisburn areas. This followed a meeting that afternoon of the multi-agency outbreak control team. The team agreed that a septic tank remained as a possible source which merited ongoing investigation.

Photo of Mr Ivan Davis Mr Ivan Davis UUP

I know that the Minister is assisting the Eastern Health and Social Services Board in this matter. With regard to restoring a clean water supply, he has confirmed this afternoon that everything in that particular area seems to be going well. Can he confirm that in June 2000 there was algal toxic poisoning suspected in cattle from the Lough Island Reavey water treatment works? Did a problem in the water treatment works plant produce an illegal discharge through the canal leading to the river in which the cattle were drinking? Has the Eastern Health and Social Services Board been made aware of this by the Water Service?

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

I hear what Mr Davis says, although I am unaware of the specific nature of this. Last Monday, when he brought a specific matter to my attention I assured him that I would respond to him in writing. I will do likewise with this one.