“It was bullshit. The whole thing was bullshit. And even to this day now it’s still bullshit.”
Those are the words of one of the Havelock North residents struck down by gastroenteritis in the 2016 campylobacter outbreak in the town as a result of contaminated drinking water.
It was sheep shit, not bull, that is thought to have been most likely responsible for the contamination, which led to four people dying, 45 being hospitalised and an estimated 5,500 – a third of the town’s population – falling ill.
But the bullshit comment reflects the ongoing sense of injustice I encountered when I interviewed more than 40 people who lived through the incident and became ill, cared for someone who became ill or bore witness to events.
The interviews – with 21 males and 20 females aged 17 to 84 – were prompted by wanting to know the stories of the people behind the numbers so frequently cited by media and in announcements related to the official inquiry into the contamination.
I heard of intense physical pain and hardship, in many cases lasting long after the outbreak itself. There was anger about how the crisis was handled, scepticism about several aspects of official accounts of it, and feelings of grievance over what is seen as a lack of accountability.
Another reason for the interviews was to develop our understanding of environmental victimisation.Continue reading Water Harms