updated 8/27/2004 2:23:30 PM ET 2004-08-27T18:23:30

Investigators searching for the source of an outbreak that sickened hundreds of travelers on a Lake Erie resort island are focusing on drinking water.

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State environmental officials on Thursday ordered inspections of private wells to determine if they have been contaminated or have played a role in contaminating the village of Put-in-Bay’s water system.

Heidi Griesmer, a state Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman, said the order was precautionary: “We don’t know if there’s contamination being introduced somewhere in the distribution system,” she said.

Some island residents use private wells to supplement water they receive from the village, and the plumbing of both water sources in some cases is connected.

Officials theorize that leaking septic tanks may have contaminated some private wells, in turn possibly also contaminating the public water system.

Mayor Mack McCann has said the village’s water system has been tested regularly with no negative results.

State health officials have interviewed 1,020 people who fell ill in recent weeks with chills, fever, diarrhea and vomiting after visiting the village on South Bass Island or surrounding areas.

Eighteen people tested positive for bacterial or viral infections.

Businesses on the island have taken a hit. The quaint popular summer getaway about halfway between Toledo and Cleveland is filled with bars, restaurants and charming inns.

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