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Ontario pays $72 million to victims of Walkerton tainted water tragedy in 2000

The Ontario government has paid out more than $72 million in compensation to victims of Walkerton’s tainted water tragedy and their families.

Seven people died and about 2,500 became ill after E. coli from a nearby farm contaminated the water supply in the small community in southwestern Ontario in May 2000.

Stan Koebel, the former manager of Walkerton’s utilities commission, was jailed for one year for his role in the tragedy, while his foreman brother, Frank, was sentenced to nine months of house arrest.

Attorney General Chris Bentley says over 99 per cent of the more than 10,000 compensation claims have been resolved, and the remainder are supposed to be resolved by the end of this year.

A total of 10,189 claims were made, with 9,275 qualifying for compensation.

Bentley says while nothing will ever make up for the tragedy experienced in Walkerton, he hopes the compensation plan has helped all those who suffered continue along the path to healing.

“As a society, we must never forget this chapter in our history,” Bentley said in a release. “As a government, we will continue to do everything we can to ensure safe, strong communities for Ontario families.”

Walkerton is now home to the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, which provides hands-on training for owners and operators of water systems.

Among the 121 recommendations on an inquiry aimed at preventing a recurrence of the public-health disaster were ones geared toward mandatory training and certification for water-system operators.

The $8.3-million training centre, located on Walkerton’s eastern edge, opened a year ago and has life-size water-treatment equipment, a mini-water tower, labs and classrooms.

Scientists who studied the affected Walkerton residents are still mining their health data to learn as much as they can about the impact of E. coli bacteria.

A study released last November indicated those who came down with acute gastroenteritis from the tainted water were more likely to develop hypertension, kidney problems or have a cardiovascular event, compared with those who were not ill or only mildly ill.

Nearly 2,000 Walkerton residents underwent blood tests, annual physicals and questionnaires as part of the Walkerton Health Study.

The study authors said the findings have implications for others who become ill because of the bacteria.

Between 5,000 and 12,000 people get food poisoning from E. coli O157:H7 each year in Canada.

The study suggests they probably should have annual checkups for their blood pressure and intermittent assessment of their kidney function and cardiac risk factors.