Washington County Fairgrounds in Compliance with State Health Department Order to Protect Public Health

ALBANY, August 21, 2000 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. today announced that the Washington County Fair is in full compliance with the December 21, 1999, State Health Department Commissioners' Order aimed at that Fair and five other county fairs that were using untreated drinking water supplies.

The December Order, followed by a February 7, 2000 Order, required a total of seven county fairs to "cease and desist" using untreated water for drinking water purposes in the wake of a waterborne E. coli outbreak associated with the 1999 Washington County Fair.

All seven county fairs were required to make improvements to ensure that their water sources are treated, tested and satisfy State requirements for public drinking water consumption. All the affected county fairs that have been held thus far this summer have achieved full compliance with the Commissioner's Orders.

Two people, a three–year–old girl and a 79 year old man, died after being infected with the toxic E. coli O157:H7 strain of bacteria at last year's Washington County Fair. Seventy–one people were hospitalized in the outbreak and hundreds of others became ill. Given the number of culture–confirmed and suspected cases, Washington County Fair illnesses are believed to represent the largest waterborne E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in United States' history.

The resulting State Health Department investigation into the outbreak involved 125 State staff, utilizing the department's epidemiologic, environmental and laboratory resources. A report on the investigation's findings, released in March 2000, concluded that the outbreak may have resulted from contamination of the Fair's Well 6 by a dormitory septic system on the fairgrounds, although manure runoff from the nearby Youth Cattle Barn cannot be ruled out as the contamination source.

"I am pleased to announce that the Washington County Fair is in full compliance with my Order," Dr. Novello said. "Families should not hesitate to attend the Fair and should join me in enjoying one of this region's most traditional and family–oriented events."

The Washington County Fair, Inc., which operates the Fair, will open its annual event on August 21. Fair organizers worked closely with the State during the past year to make necessary changes to ensure that the fairgrounds' drinking water system satisfies State public health requirements.

After an evaluation by a licensed professional engineer, Fair management made numerous improvements the fairgrounds' water distribution system. These include:

  • The installation and development of two new on–site wells to provide drinking water. All All water from these wells is filtered and disinfected with chlorine;
  • The eight on–site water wells which were used last year as water sources have been permanently disconnected from the fairground's water supply system and cannot provide drinking water to the new water supply system; and
  • A thorough flushing and disinfection of the fairground's drinking water distribution system pipes has occurred.

The New York State Department of Health conducted a comprehensive assessment of the fairground's new water supply system, including:

  • The review and approval of engineering plans and specifications for the proposed water supply system improvements including conducting on–site inspections to ensure the facilities were constructed in accordance with approved plans;
  • An on–site evaluation over a two day period of the contaminant removal capacity of the newly installed filtration system, to test its effectiveness.
  • An extensive testing program, conducted to assess chlorine residuals and presence of coliform bacteria throughout the fairground's water supply system. The water supply system consistently maintained satisfactory chlorine residuals and all 50 microbiological coliform samples (over 50 taken) tested negative for coliform bacteria throughout the fairground system.
  • Additional tests conducted on the new wells and distribution system for chemical contaminants have confirmed that the new water supply system fully meets the State's drinking water standards.

A state certified water system operator will be regularly monitoring the fairground's water supply system during the Washington County Fair's entire run. In addition, both fairground management and New York State Department Health staff will be on–site and will be testing the new water supply system during the Fair.

"We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that this drinking water supply is clean and safe," Dr. Novello said. "I will be attending the Fair to see for myself the many improvements that have been made to ensure that last year's tragedy never happens again."

8/21/00–106 OPA