Water contamination caused diarrhea, vomiting and fever in between 2,500 and 3,000 people in a single day in January 1992.
This January marks the 30th anniversary of the gastroenteritis outbreak that caused massive poisoning to between 2,500 and 3,000 people in Ontinyent, according to a preliminary report prepared by the Area 16 Community Health Center. Although the figure published by the media varied and some pointed to some 500 affected, the truth is that they were a few hours of great uncertainty in the city.
Specifically, it was on January 31 when this outbreak broke out, which had as its origin the fecal contamination in the water for public consumption, coming from the well of the Barranc dels Tarongers. .
There were hundreds of Ontinyentins who required medical assistance, to the point that the hospital’s emergency service had to be reinforced from one to three doctors on duty and all the regular doctors were mobilized in the outpatient clinics, the then councilor explained to Chronicle of Health, Ricardo Garcia. In addition, that same night, Health sent an ambulance from Valencia loaded with medicines to treat diarrhea and vomiting, since the city’s pharmacies had run out.
Although at first it was feared that it was an attack with chemical substances, the first analyzes already pointed to microbiological contamination. In fact, the subsequent reports that analyzed the water and the state of the wells found the cause was filtration, which contaminated the water and caused the amount of chlorine that had been administered to be insufficient to neutralize the harmful agents that reached the water. with the filtration.
The Councilor for Health received the news of a significant number of people who went to the doctor with the same symptoms, at first, residents from the San José neighborhood, but cases quickly appeared throughout the city, which led to the suspicion that they were deals with drinking water. Hence, the City Council quickly issued a note to prohibit the consumption of water until the facts were clarified. Already around 9:30 in the morning the first analyzes pointed to microbiological and not chemical contamination. Shortly after, epidemiologists and environmental health technicians arrived to carry out surveys, the former, and the latter to analyze the water of the entire network.
In an interview with Crónica, Ricardo García explained that in episodes of heavy rains, the dose of chlorine in the wells was increased, but on this occasion, no heavy rains had been recorded, so the amount of chlorine had not been increased.
As the news spread, the sale of bottled water also skyrocketed and many companies were also affected by the lack of attendance of their workers, as well as the schools experienced a day with many absences.
Improvements to prevent events like these
The case experienced 30 years ago has not been repeated, not even with the significant rains recorded in recent years. Precisely to avoid this in February 2021, works were carried out on the roof of the Pou dels Tarongers, which was at risk of collapse. For this reason, the initial works, which were going to cost €297,124, were extended by more than €146,000 to solve the problem of the serious deterioration of the forging of the tank cover and the non-existence of a compression layer. Waterproofing works and exterior improvements were also carried out. This reservoir currently provides 60% of the constant flow of the drinking water distribution network.
In addition, decades ago another well was drilled in the Torrater area, so that there are two that currently supply the city.