So that was problem No. 1, which was a pretty hefty problem, considering that the sulphate turned acidic within hours of the mistake. One man reported that milk in his coffee curdled once it hit the acid in the water. Others complained of hair turning green and toenails falling out. And this was just in the days after the contamination.
Problems No. 2 through infinity got rolling in the aftermath.
How They Made It Worse:
After getting 900 complaints about the water's taste, the water company advised residents to cover up the water's acidity by diluting it with orange juice. What they didn't tell anyone was that the orange juice was actually making the acid worse. What they also didn't tell anyone was that they had confirmed exactly what was wrong with the water by July 12, when the original driver was summoned back to the treatment center. Yet they waited 10 whole days before putting a teeny-tiny notice in the sports section of the paper to let residents know what was up. So let's recap:
July 6 -- Driver pollutes the water.
July 12 -- After a week of calls and complaints, treatment center confirms poisoning.
July 22 -- The chairman of the water authority lets the public in on the little goof-up, via the sports section of the paper.
"So the score is 96 for 6 at the second over and whoops we've poisoned you our bad."
By now the acid running through the pipes of the city had stripped them of zinc and lead, so residents were literally bathing in a poison cocktail. So the next big piece of advice was to simply boil the water, hopefully so the metals would get burned and leave town in a huff. Unfortunately, toxic chemicals are not the same thing as bacteria, and boiling the water actually made them even more concentrated.
And even though the authorities were flushing out the pipes, it wasn't doing much good because the main tank hadn't been cleaned in three years. That's three years -- when they were supposed to clean it six times a month.
"That green stuff? It's, um ... herbs. Health herbs."
Needless to say, after a poisoning of this level the drinkers of poison water in Camelford don't get a happy ending. Some have died of cancer, others of a way-early onset of Alzheimer's and dementia. The residents who didn't straight-up die still report loss of brain function, premature aging and decreased cognitive abilities. One victim had to get a bone biopsy, and the doctor found a ring of aluminum in his bones, like the rings of a tree.
Like Wolverine, but your only power is to wrap sandwiches efficiently.
So you'd think Camelford's residents would end up with a billion-dollar settlement out of this disaster, right? Try 500,000 pounds total, among about 650 claims, with the highest claim hitting 10,000 pounds, or a little over $16,000. The judge in the settlement said they were "extraordinarily well advised to accept the offer," because he didn't think they'd get anything if they pursued more. So they didn't.
We hope you learned your lesson, Lowermoor Water Treatment Works.
"Let's all raise a glass to criminal negligence and -- oh, no ... wait."
Centerfuge has his own web-comic at centerfuge.yolasite.com
See how we just keep tripping over our dicks in 6 Natural Disasters That Were Caused by Human Stupidity and 6 Man-Made Natural Disasters Just Waiting to Happen.