New York Count Nears 500 in Illness Traced to Fair’s Water

From Times Wire Services

Nearly 500 people have been sickened and one child has died in the largest E. coli outbreak in state history--possibly one of the worst nationally--health officials said Thursday.

The outbreak of the deadly bacteria at the Washington County Fair in Greenwich, about 35 miles north of Albany, was likely caused by the contamination of the fair’s water.

Health officials said the water supply may have been tainted when rainwater washed over cow feces from a nearby farm and ran into an underground aquifer tapped by the fair’s wells.


Additionally, officials were worried that the contamination may have spread beyond the Greenwich fair.

A fair worker who sold sausages might have taken three gallons of tainted water with her to use for coffee, lemonade and frozen treats at the Rensselaer County Fair in Schaghticoke, state Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello said Thursday.

Novello said no cases of E. coli had been connected to the Rensselaer fair, one county to the south.

By Thursday, 497 people had been treated at hospitals for E. coli symptoms, Novello said. Eighty-five cases have been confirmed as E. coli poisoning, she said.

Three-year-old Rachel Aldrich, of Clifton Park, succumbed to the Greenwich outbreak.

Tests showed that one of the wells at the Washington County Fair was infected with E. coli bacteria.

The well is near a cattle barn, and the ground around it had been dug up for the installation of two new wells. Heavy rains in late August could have driven cattle manure contaminated with E. coli into the well, Novello said.

It is possible that health officials will never find the deadly strain because the first tests for E. coli were done Sept. 3, four days after the fair ended, said Donald Dixon Despommier, a microbiology professor at Columbia University’s School of Public Health.

In 1993, four children died and more than 500 people became ill after eating undercooked hamburgers in Washington state in the worst outbreak of E. coli bacteria in the U.S.