In light of an E. coli outbreak at the Washington County Fair that left two dead and more than 800 people ill, three Western New York counties -- Wyoming, Orleans and Genesee -- have been directed to ensure the safety of the water supply at their county fairgrounds.
All three county fairs use untreated well water, and all three must either chlorinate that water, treat it with ultraviolet light or find a municipal source that provides treated water, according to a directive issued Monday by Dr. Antonia Novello, the state health commissioner.
Three other counties -- Washington, Chenango and Madison -- which also use untreated well water, were told to treat their water. Fifty-five other fairgrounds in New York have either chlorinated wells or use municipal water systems that are treated and disinfected.
What is being called one of the worst E. coli outbreaks in U.S. history began at the Washington County Fair, held Aug. 27 through 29. Manure contaminated with a potentially deadly strain of the virus seeped into an unchlorinated well.
On Tuesday, there were 804 reported E. coli cases linked to the fair, and Dr. Novello indicated last week the total could reach 1,000. Two people, a 3-year-old girl and a 79-year-old man, have died, and 64 people have been hospitalized.
Health officials in the three Western New York counties said the organizers of their county fairs have been notified of the directive, and they indicated they will comply.
All three officials said the water supplied at their fairgrounds hadn't been treated before because regular testing indicated no problems.
"I've been inspecting the fair since 1974, and it's been in operation long before that, and we have not had reported any problems with the water supplies," said Orleans County Health Department Director Andrew Lucyszyn.
Lucyszyn said the county fairgrounds in Knowlesville, officially called the 4-H Youth Fair Grounds, uses three wells and that their water will be treated.
Wyoming County's senior public health sanitarian, Owen Eddy, said the county's fairgrounds in the Village of Pike uses water from two on-site wells.
"It's just another procedure they'll be going through, and there's a lot of time to plan," Eddy said. "They do not use the fairgrounds again until June."
One of the options for the Genesee County Fairgrounds in Batavia might be to tap into the Town of Batavia's public water supply, which is treated, according to the county's public health director, Dr. Donald Rowe.
"The town's water line is available and not very far away," he said. "The distribution line is right at Route 5, and the fair is probably no more than 500 or 600 feet away."
The other option would be chlorination of the water from the existing well supply at the fairgrounds, he said. Officials are scheduled to meet today Wednesday to formulate a plan for compliance with the state directive.