November 27, 2000

Cornell Named in $10 Million E. coli Lawsuit

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Cornell and its Cooperative Extension of Washington County as well as five other defendants were named last Wednesday in two lawsuits which blame them for the county’s 1999 E. coli outbreak. Filed on behalf of two children infected with E. coli, the suits seek $10 million in damages.

The University could not be reached last night for comment. Washington County is located Northeast of Albany.

Investigators say that one of the Cooperative Extension’s 4-H dorms, located on the fairgrounds at the 1999 Washington County Fair had a sewage pit located approximately 36 feet away from an unchlorinated fairgrounds well. The investigation, held after the fair, found the 0157:H7 E. coli strain in the dorm’s sewer pit, the well and the fairground water lines. DNA testing of the bacteria samples genetically matched the bacteria found in the victims, according to the Associated Press.

The well was also near a manure storage pile next to a cattle barn, where more than 80 4-H children tended livestock. The state has said an average of five percent of livestock carry the 0157:H7 strain, according to the Associated Press.

The outbreak, which is believed to be the nation’s largest waterborne E. coli outbreak, killed two people, a three-year-old girl and a 79-year-old man, and possibly sickened over 1000 people, New York state Health officials told the Associated Press. Sixty-five people were hospitalized, and most affected by the disease attended the fair.

The lawsuits accuse the Cooperative Extension of negligently contaminating the fairground’s water and claim the Extension should have had a safe method for disposing the dorm sewage and the livestock waste.

Last week, lawyer William Nikas of Hudson Falls, filed the lengthy suits on behalf of Cheyenne Bishop, 4, and her younger cousin Brooke Bishop who were both infected with the bacteria. Cheyenne Bishop’s father said his daughter has lost 50 percent of her kidney function and suffers from a rare blood disorder because of the E. coli infection.

The suits also name the fair owners and operators, Washington County Fair Inc., fair manager Mark S. Jacques, the fair’s consulting water system engineer Thomas W. Nace and his firm Nace Engineering P.C., and the Washington County government.

Since the outbreak, the fair organization has been named in dozens of lawsuits which seek over $500 million in damages.

Archived article by Christen Aragoni