A fatal waterborne disease epidemic in Walkerton, Ontario: comparison with other waterborne outbreaks in the developed world

Water Sci Technol. 2003;47(3):7-14.


An estimated 2,300 people became seriously ill and seven died from exposure to microbially contaminated drinking water in the town of Walkerton, Ontario, Canada in May 2000. The severity of this drinking water disaster resulted in the Government of Ontario calling a public inquiry by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor to address the cause of the outbreak, the role (if any) of government policies in contributing to this outbreak and, ultimately, the implications of this experience on the safety of drinking water across the Province of Ontario. The circumstances surrounding the Walkerton tragedy are an important reference source for those concerned with providing safe drinking water. Although some circumstances are obviously specific to this epidemic, others are uncomfortably reminiscent of waterborne outbreaks that have occurred elsewhere. These recurring themes suggested the need for attention to broad issues of drinking water security and they present the challenge for how drinking water safety can be managed to prevent such tragedies in the future.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Campylobacter jejuni / isolation & purification
  • Campylobacter jejuni / pathogenicity
  • Developing Countries*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / etiology*
  • Escherichia coli Infections / mortality*
  • Escherichia coli O157 / isolation & purification
  • Escherichia coli O157 / pathogenicity
  • Humans
  • Ontario
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment
  • Security Measures
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Supply*