A lawsuit was filed yesterday on behalf of 40 individuals who fell ill with severe gastrointestinal symptoms in March 2008 after drinking from a public water system. The suit was filed by Marler Clark, the Seattle-based foodborne illness law firm, against the city of Alamosa, CO, who was responsible for maintaining and distributing the water in question.

Among the victims, 18 Alamosa residents tested positive for Salmonella Typhimurium and 22 others are suspected of suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms related to Salmonella Typhimurium. One resident, Larry Vasquez Sr., died as a result of his infection.

According to Bill Marler, an attorney for the plaintiffs, a Colorado state report that was released late last year indicated that the city of Alamosa ignored the deteriorating condition of its water tank for years before a Salmonella outbreak sickened over 400 (some estimates reach as high as 2,000) and killed one resident.

The state report found animal waste likely contaminated an in-ground storage tank that had been identified as a problem in 1997.

At the time of the March 2008 outbreak, critical points within the city’s water system were in significant disrepair. For example, the Weber Reservoir, the city’s primary water well at the time of the outbreak, was in poor condition with cracking and noticeable holes in the corners of the concrete structure. In addition, the bottom of the well held 12 to 18 inches of sediment, having last been drained and cleaned in 1984.

Two other city water storage facilities, the Ross Tower and the Craft Tower, contained significant sediment as well, and the Ross Tower had deficiencies in its structural integrity and was contaminated with animal feces. The Ross Tower was last inspected in the 1980s, and had not been cleaned since then either; the Craft Tower was last inspected in 1997.

According to the state report, the deteriorating tank was ripe for contamination because Alamosa did not chlorinate its water at the time of the outbreak.

“Only a small quantity of bird or animal feces contamination may have led to the Salmonella outbreak,” the report read. “This kind of outbreak may have been very difficult to prevent in a system that did not chlorinate its water.”