Nearly 60 people, all of them living in the same street in the city’s Nubarashen suburb, have been hospitalized with high fever, nausea and other severe symptoms since Friday. According to officials at a Yerevan hospital specializing in infectious disease, 26 of them were discharged by Monday evening, while some of the others remained in a serious condition.
The Armenian Ministry of Health was quick to suggest that the mass poisoning was caused by water contamination. The head of the ministry’s Hygiene and Anti-Epidemiological Inspectorate, Artavazd Vanian, pointed out on Monday that supplies of drinking water to the Nubarashen neighborhood were halted due to a pipe rupture last week.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General cited gave details of that accident as it announced the launch of a criminal investigation later in the day. “A preliminary examination of materials showed that the intestinal infection was caused by drinking water,” it said in a statement.
The statement added that investigators have taken water samples and confiscated fragments of the damaged pipe for a detailed “sanitary examination.” Similar laboratory tests were also conducted by health authorities.
The head of the Yerevan Jur company managing the city’s water distribution network, Gor Grigorian, cautioned that the authorities have yet to identify the definitive cause of the outbreak. He said the company will be ready to compensate the affected residents if it is officially held responsible for their hospitalization.
Yerevan Jur is run by France’s Veolia Eau utility group in accordance with a 10-year management agreement that it signed with the Armenian government in 2006. Veolia has been using large-scale loans from the World Bank and the French government to upgrade the Armenian capital’s obsolete water and sewerage networks. Most of its drinking water still leaks out of eroding Soviet-era pipes before reaching consumers.