An inappropriate cross-connection between sewage- and drinking-water pipelines contaminated tap water in a Finnish town, resulting in an extensive waterborne gastroenteritis outbreak in this developed country. According to a database and a line-list, altogether 1222 subjects sought medical care as a result of this exposure. Seven pathogens were found in patient samples of those who sought treatment. To establish the true disease burden from this exposure, we undertook a population-based questionnaire investigation with a control population, infrequently used to study waterborne outbreaks. The study covered three areas, contaminated and uncontaminated parts of the town and a control town. An estimated 8453 residents fell ill during the outbreak, the excess number of illnesses being 6501. Attack rates were 53% [95% confidence interval (CI) 49·5–56·4] in the contaminated area, 15·6% (95% CI 13·1–18·5) in the uncontaminated area and 6·5% (95% CI 4·8–8·8) in the control population. Using a control population allowed us to differentiate baseline morbidity from the observed morbidity caused by the water contamination, thus enabling a more accurate estimate of the disease burden of this outbreak.