July 8, 2022 5.15 pm This story is over 23 months old

Health investigation after river rafters get sick following charity event

“That’s scary” one participant said

The health authorities are investigating the water quality of a drain in Anton’s Gowt after a number of raft racers fell i ill following a recent event.

Boston Councillors Katie Chalmers and Tom Ashton have both raised concerns around the event after friends and family suffered vomiting and diarrhoea after entering Newham Drain as part of a local charity fundraiser for Macmillan.

Now the Environment Agency, the UK Health Security Agency and others have been investigating after people noticed strange discolouration of the water near to, and emerging from a pipe in the direction of, the nearby Oak Tree Holiday Park caravan site.

Katie, who helped organise the event which starts at the lock connection to the River Witham and finishes at the Malcolm Arms, described how the participants were in the water on Sunday, with some swimming behind the rafts to push them along as part of the race.

“We were in the water on Sunday. People started being sick Sunday night into midnight and were still being on Tuesday,” she said.

Two participants got so bad they went to hospital, one was found to have picked up a bug from the water, while the other had an infection. Both are now out of hospital.

“That’s scary s**t, seriously scary,” said Katie.

She added that participants did not meet regularly enough for a 48-hour bug to have passed between them.

“We don’t all hang around together normally. These are different groups of people that have come together for the raft race.

“The event has become a loved part of the calendar. It’s supposed to be a fun community event. It’s ruined the fun.”

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Sophie Lorenz, an 18-year-old Rugby player, was one of those taken ill, along with several of her teammates who had re-entered the event after enjoying a previous one.

“We came to the end of Sunday and I felt okay but come Monday evening I went to work, went on first break around 12.30 and just suddenly started throwing up.

“I was constantly ill until about half 10 in the morning. I couldn’t keep anything down, not even water. I went to hospital and had bloods and everything taken.

“We entered as a rugby team and I put it in the chat and then quite a few of the girls came back saying they didn’t feel too good either.”

She said, however, that the event itself had been “brilliant” and well-run.

Sophie and her rugby teammates. | Photo: Supplied

The event has been successfully run for several years now, taking a break only due to COVID, but this is the first time something like this has occured.

Councillor Tom Ashton was one of the judges on the day and said it was flagged up after the race that someone had spotted “a pipe with grey water discharging to the watercourse”.

“I had a look and the water at that point did smell a bit poor, but at the same time this was water that hasn’t been disturbed for quite some time.”

He hoped that if anyone was found to have been in the wrong that the agencies would “come down like a tonne of bricks” on them.

“The water courses in Lincolnshire are generally kept in a good and clean condition. It would be an absolute tragedy if one bad apple of a neighbour in this location meant that this kind of events couldn’t take place.

“If anything, it does suggest that taking regular water samples might be an idea in future, but this event has run historically annually. It took a break for the pandemic but there has never been an issue with this kind of historic event before.”

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A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “Officers are investigating the water quality at Newham Drain, following reports of pollution entering the watercourse.

“Current regulations for rivers and open waters in England protect wildlife and are not designed for the protection of human health.

“Instead there are over 400 bathing waters to choose from more details here: Bathing water quality (data.gov.uk)”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UKHSA said: “UKHSA East Midlands has been made aware of a cluster of people who have become ill following a raft race at Anton’s Gowt.

“Investigations are still ongoing alongside Environmental Health colleagues to determine the type of illness and the possible source of infection.”

Anglian Water has also confirmed they have carried out investigations into the area and, although they have no assets in the area, believe discharge in the water came from the nearby caravan park.

East Lindsey District Council’s Public Health Team are also involved in the investigations, they said they had spoken to the owner of the caravan site.

Reporters contacted the owner of the site, however, were told no comment would be made.