France's first big weekend marking the start of the summer-holiday season was marred when an 8-year-old boy died after a short stay at a summer camp in southwestern France, where the tap water was known to be contaminated.
On Thursday night, seven other children who had been staying at the same St. Bernard Chalet at the camp in the Ariège area, were also struck down by a similar intestinal sickness.
As prosecutors launch an investigation after the boy's death on Wednesday night, the local prefect, Nathalie Marthien, has declined to confirm the water at a summer camp in the tiny community of Ascou was responsible for the outbreak of sickness.
However, an autopsy has revealed the boy, from the Parisian suburb of Villeneuve-le-Roi, died from an acute intestinal infection.
He fell ill just days after arriving at the camp, which had been under orders to serve only bottled water since July 4th, after tests had revealed the presence of coliform bacteria in its water source.
Coliform bacteria is found naturally in animals, including humans, and is not harmful, but it's an indicator of the presence of dangerous pathogens that come from faeces, such as the potentially deadly E. Coli strain.
In the opinion of one father whose two daughters were among the sick children admitted to hospital, the local officials are to blame for the episode.
“They knew the village’s water was contaminated, but nobody told us anything. OK, they gave them bottled water, but how can you ensure that a child is not going to drink from the tap? Were they taking bottled water showers as well?” the angry father, who gave his name only as Vincent, told French daily Le Parisien. His two daughters have since been released from hospital.
25 hospitalised in Brittany
The other seven children fell sick on Thursday evening as they were returning home from the camp in Ascou aboard a train, which was forced to make an emergency stop so the youngsters could be examined by paramedics. In the end their sickness was not deemed life-threatening and they completed the trip to Paris, RTL radio reported.
The sickness outbreak began on Tuesday, two days after roughly 40 children from suburban Paris arrived at the camp where they were to stay for two weeks for sport and outdoor activities. Because of the tragedy the local prefect has shut down the camp .
It was only because of a routine test that the bacteria in the camp's water supply was found to be contaminated. For the moment authorities have not specified a source of the contamination. Samples of the water and food served at the camp have been sent to a lab in Lyon and results are expect in the coming days.
On Friday there was a similar scare at another holiday camp in France where numerous children and adults had to be admitted to hospital after falling ill at a camp in Brittany, north western France, local newspaper Ouest-France reported.
For the moment, authorities have not stated the cause of the outbreak, that has left victims vomitting and nauseous.
1.5 million French 'drinking polluted tap water'
The quality of France's drinking water has been subject to scrutiny in recent months, after a survey in February this year, revealed tap water was polluted for 1.5 million residents in the country.
According to the study most substandard water in France is loaded with pesticides and nitrates from fertilizer and livestock manure. That is the case in 63 percent of instances where homes receive polluted water – which represents around 900,000 people.
However, pesticides and nitrates are not the only substances polluting French water.
The study also pointed to the presence of selenium, a natural, but toxic, substance that appears when groundwater supplies are over used.