Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Contamination of a Temporary Water Supply at a County Fair

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Contamination of a Temporary Water Supply at a County Fair

Article excerpt


County fairs, festivals and other outdoor mass celebrations pose unique environmental health challenges. Most often organized by dedicated volunteers, public health protection may not be a primary consideration during event preparations. Organizers of large events may set up temporary water supply, wastewater, and solid waste disposal infrastructures in an attempt to meet the demands of large crowds. Add food vendors, farm animals, and camping to the event and the risk for public health problems increases. For large events, a temporary "community within a community" may be organized, assembled, and functioning in a matter of days.

This article describes an investigation of two water contamination incidents at the 1990 Olmsted County Fair in Rochester, Minnesota. It describes the problems encountered and the cooperative actions taken by the Olmsted County Fair Board, Olmsted County Public Health Services, and the Rochester City Plumbing Inspector in response to complaints about a potential public health problem.


Olmsted County is in southeastern Minnesota, approximately 80 miles south of Minneapolis/St. Paul. The population of Olmsted County in 1990 was 106,470, with over 70,000 people residing in the city of Rochester.

The Olmsted County Fair annually attracts approximately 200,000 people during the week-long event. Part of the fair attraction includes over 100 commercial business displays, approximately 500 farm animals, 4-H exhibits, carnival rides, grandstand shows, and approximately 80 food vendors. Nearly 60 camping vehicles house concessionaires and exhibitors on the fairgrounds during the week of the fair [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED].

The fairgrounds are located within Rochester city limits and are served by municipal water and sewer. A temporary water distribution system in the food vendor area serves food vendors and others in need of water during the fair [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].

On July 30, 1990, the Olmsted County Fair opened with most food vendors on location. In the next two days, two separate incidents of water contamination occurred: 1) In the late afternoon on July 31, a food vendor (FS#1 on [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]) received a complaint from a customer that a cup of lemonade had "a bad chlorine smell and taste." The vendor reported the incident to a fair board member and to a public health sanitarian making routine food stand inspections the morning of August 1; 2) [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] In the late evening on August 1, a second incident of strong chlorine taste/odor in a beverage was reported to the operator of FS#1. The Olmsted County Fair Board and Public Health Services were notified the morning of August 2.

July 31 Incident


The water supply and distribution system in the food vendor area were evaluated and sources of chlorine identified. Olmsted County Public Health Services (OCPHS) sanitarians consulted the Rochester City plumbing inspector, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Water Supply Engineering Unit, and a MDH Southeast District engineer to assess the potential routes of contamination.

Rochester Public Utilities (RPU) Water Division was consulted regarding any water service interruption to the fairgrounds including broken water mains or fire hydrant flushing in the area (which may have created a negative pressure in the water distribution system). RPU was also asked if chlorine was introduced into the city water supply at higher levels than normal.

The food stand operator (FS#1) who reported the complaint of chlorine in the lemonade was interviewed. The water source and method and frequency of chlorine use in FS#1 were assessed. The operator of an adjoining food stand (FS#2) and a number of other food stand operators throughout the food vendor area were interviewed to determine if complaints of chlorine taste or odor in foods or beverages were received [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. …

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