Colorado Salmonella Outbreak Blamed on Animal WasteNov 19, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP It looks like the Salmonella outbreak in Alamosa, Colorado last year was the result of a faulty drinking water storage tank and animal waste.
A report from the state of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment indicates that the city of Alamosa neglected to act on a long-standing recommendation to inspect a deteriorating drinking water tank, said 9News. The recommendation was made years prior to the 2008 Salmonella outbreak that caused hundreds to fall ill and resulted in one death. The report was released yesterday.
According to the report, said 9News, animal waste was the likely culprit in an in-ground storage tank contamination that was “identified as a problem in 1997.” In addition to the fatality, the outbreak in 2008 sickened 442, according to reports; however, state health officials believe the number was closer to 1,300 residents—of the some 8,900, residents, said 9News.
Ron Falco, manager of the Safe Drinking Water program at Colorado’s state health department, said “animal waste contamination in the concrete storage tank” was the likeliest culprit, according to 9News. Also, Falco indicated that state health investigators were never advised of the 1997 inspection that was made available to the “city by a private company,” said 9News. Of note, the state inspection report recommended regular inspections to keep track of the "cracking and problem with the corners of the tank," quoted 9News.
According to state inspections cited by 9News, the reviews "did not focus on storage tanks and distribution piping," and, now, Falco wants know why the report was not provided to the state and why there is no indication that follow-up inspections never occurred in the 11 years from the inspection to the massive outbreak. Had Alamosa submitted records outlining the issue, said Falco, then the state inspection could have included either a recommendation or a mandate to conduct a repair, according to 9News.
"If we'd had those records, we would have reviewed them," Falco said, quoted 9News. "Hindsight is 20-20 … it's easy to say now we would have required that," Falco added.
To compound matters, at the time of the tank’s ongoing deterioration, Alamosa did not chlorinate its water. "... only a small quantity of bird or animal feces contamination may have led to the Salmonella outbreak," reported 9News, citing the report. "This kind of outbreak may have been very difficult to prevent in a system that did not chlorinate its water," the report continued. It seems, said 9News, that Alamosa’s public drinking water system had a disinfection waiver enabling it to bypass chlorination mandates. Chlorination in Alamosa was initiated immediately following the outbreak at which point Colorado’s state health department withdrew 72 of 126 disinfection waivers in the state, reported 9News; however, many cities still operate under a disinfection waiver.
Salmonella, which is usually found in food and water contaminated with animal feces, is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstance, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis, and arthritis. Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination.