Child with E. coli Infection and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome
A lawsuit involving E. coli bacteria in well water has been settled by food safety attorneys at our law firm. Our client contracted an E. coli O157 infection after drinking the well water and then developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication that causes kidney failure. Although E. coli infections are more commonly associated with contaminated food like ground beef, it is entirely possible to contract E. coli poisoning from water supplies as well.
In this particular case, an Iowa toddler became sick from E. coli-contaminated well water that served as the water supply to the rural home her family rented. In May of 2007 she became sick with symptoms of an E. coli infection, including severe diarrhea and abdominal pain. She was hospitalized and her symptoms worsened as the pathogen infected her blood. Her condition, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (E. coli-HUS), destroyed her red blood cells and kept the kidneys from serving their purpose as filters that clean and remove waste from the bloodstream.
She was put on kidney dialysis and remained in the hospital for about a month. Even three years later, she has permanent kidney damage and will continue to require medication and treatment. She could need a kidney transplant later in life.
Employees of the Iowa county where the home is located tested tap water from the house in June of 2007. The results were positive for E. coli. The home is surrounded by pasture land; cattle are known to graze on land uphill from the well. Expert witnesses, including a geohydrologist and a microbiologist, were hired to examine the situation and confirmed that cattle manure in rainwater most likely drained into the well and contaminated the water with the pathogen.
How Does Water Get Contaminated with E. coli?
Because harmful strains of E. coli can live in animal and human digestive systems, they can therefore be found in animal and human waste. After any kind of precipitation—a rainfall, a snowmelt—E. coli from animal or human fecal matter can wash into groundwater, rivers, lakes, and streams. This can consequently contaminate water sources and, if the water isn’t sufficiently treated, can make people fatally ill.
While we like to think of well water as pure, that is not always the case. For well water to be safe, the well must be constructed properly. Often, older wells do not meet these simple construction standards, as in the case discussed above. The farmhouse well was not constructed soundly enough to prevent surface runoff contaminated with E. coli-tainted cattle dung from entering the well.
There are many types, or “strains” of pathogenic E. coli that can contaminate well water: