Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
April 19, 2001
U of G study to look at economic impact of Walkerton water crisis
Two University of Guelph faculty have been commissioned by the Walkerton inquiry to do the near-impossible: put a price tag on the water contamination crisis that claimed seven lives and made 2,300 people ill.
Professors John Livernois, Department of Economics, and Fred Evers, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, have designed two surveys to determine the economic impact of the water crisis on local families and businesses. The study will be part of the inquiry’s report, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“The real costs of what happened in Walkerton cannot be quantified,” said Livernois. “People lost their lives, and some people will be sick for the rest of their lives.” But the researchers will try to assess the cost of things such as lost wages due to illness, trips to the hospital, clean-up expenses and lower property values.
It’s estimated that the province has already spent between $10 million and $15 million responding to the water contamination, covering such expenses as cleaning and disinfecting facilities and equipment.
“That’s just the beginning,” said Livernois, who specializes in environmental and natural resource economics. “The end cost will be much, much bigger than that. We just don’t know how much bigger.”
Graduate students with experience in conducting interviews on sensitive subjects will carry out surveys of some 400 randomly selected homes in Walkerton for several weeks starting in May. Residents will be chosen from a roster of utility bills, and home visits will be arranged for each family.
“Given the sensitive nature of the subject, we felt face-to-face interviews were more appropriate than calling on the telephone,” said Livernois. The survey will take about 30 minutes to complete.
“We will be asking families to quantify a number of things having to deal with the water contamination, from hotel expenses if a child or family member was hospitalized far away to having to use boiled and bottled water,” he said. “It may turn out that this has been costly in ways we never imagined. For example, the water was so heavily chlorinated afterwards that people are finding that their clothes wear out faster and have to be replaced.”
The business survey, overseen by Livernois, will focus on areas such as lost revenues, fewer customers and reduced operating hours due to illness. Students with economics backgrounds will survey some 200 local business owners. A focus group will also be held in Walkerton, with assistance from the local Chamber of Commerce.
In addition to the two surveys, Livernois will look at what it cost to clean and disinfect the municipality’s facilities and equipment, and who is going to pay for it.
All findings will be turned over to the inquiry, although individual details about those surveyed will remain confidential and will not be available for litigation purposes.
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