On August 28th and 29th of 1999, the Argyle Fire Department and Udder Delights had concession stands at the Washington County Fair in the state of New York near Well No 6. Health officials believe a believe a rainstorm on Aug. 26 may have washed infected cow manure into the well. The contaminated water was then used to make beverages and to prepare food sold to fairgoers.
Children who attended the fair – thousands – purchased concessions made with water from that well. 71 of them were rushed to area hospitals after becoming sick with high fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramping, including 13 of them who were diagnosed with acute hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, caused by a strain of the bacteria E. coli – a virulent type known as 0157:H7. Those children suffered permanent kidney damage as a result – including Jacob T. Moore, who was five when he attended the rural fair.
Jacob’s mother, Melissa, sought damages on the grounds the Health Department gave food and beverage vendors permits without bothering to make sure that the water used to prepare those items was safe.
In a decision reached on March 9, Judge Edward A. Sheridan dismissed the Moores’ claim, stating the process of permitting vendors “involved an exercise in judgment … as to the potability and purity of the Washington County Fair water supply.”
The Judge continued, “While that judgment was in all probability erroneous and while more could have been done … defendant is not answerable in damages for any injuries caused by errors of omission in permitting vendors to operate in what in all probability was a contaminated water supply.”
In 2003, Judge Sheridan had approved a $4 million settlement for E. coli victims of the Washington County Fair, after attorney Donald Boyajian won a class-action lawsuit on behalf of 134 people, including the families of 3-year-old Rachel Aldrich of Clifton Park and a 79-year-old Gansevoort man, who died.
However, in the 1999 Washington County Fair case, now known as the largest waterborne E. coli outbreak in American history, Sheridan cleared the state of any wrongdoing because fair officials were self-testing water and reporting the results to the Health Department’s district office. Health Department staff were also actively working with fair management to improve the water delivery service.