Lynden schools, fair sued over E. coli outbreak

By Steve Guntli

Six Whatcom County families have filed a lawsuit after their children were infected with E. coli on a school field trip.

The families have filed a suit in Whatcom County Superior Court, naming the Northwest Fair Association, Whatcom County Dairy Women and the Lynden school district as defendants. The lawsuit argues that the organizations failed to take proper action to protect the children from contracting E. coli, and didn’t follow guidelines set out by either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians.

Approximately 60 people were infected with the bacteria in April of last year following a field trip to the Milk Makers Festival at the Northwest Washington Fairgrounds. Over 1,300 students from around the county, many of them first graders, visited the festival between April 21 and April 23.

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli is typically contracted through contact with animal feces. The disease can cause abdominal distress, vomiting and diarrhea and in severe cases can cause kidney damage. Thorough hand washing often eliminates most of the harmful bacteria.

The festival organizers provided hand sanitizer stations, which, according to the Whatcom County Department of Health, is not as effective as hand washing. Following the outbreak at the Milk Maker’s Festival, the organizers of the Northwest Washington Fair doubled the number of available hand-washing stations and gave special seminars to fair employees to prevent further outbreaks.

The lawsuit alleges the barnyard facilities were not properly cleaned before the Milk Maker’s Festival was set up. A joint study between the CDC, Whatcom County Department of Health and Washington State Department of Health traced the source of the outbreak to the northern end of the dairy barn.

According to a CDC study, lab tests confirmed 25 cases to be E. coli while another 35 were considered probable.

Eleven people were hospitalized, and six developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition that can lead to kidney failure. No one died from the outbreak.

According to the filing, the families are not seeking a specific amount, saying the courts should determine the total awarded. A court date has not been set.

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