Deadly Prion Proteins Survive Wastewater Treatment Process
By Michael Woods
Scientists in Wisconsin are reporting in a paper scheduled for the July 1 issue of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology that typical wastewater treatment processes do not degrade prions. Prions, rogue proteins that cause incurable brain infections such as Mad Cow disease and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Alzheimer’s disease are difficult to inactivate, resisting extreme heat, chemical disinfectants, and irradiation. In fact, prions are known to migrate, mutate and multiply.
Until now, scientists did not know whether prions entering sewers and septic tanks from slaughterhouses, meatpacking facilities, or private game dressing, could survive and pass through conventional sewage treatment plants.
Joel Pedersen and colleagues used laboratory experiments with simulated wastewater treatment to show that prions can be recovered from wastewater sludge after 20 days, remaining in the biosolids, a byproduct of sewage treatment sometimes used to fertilize farm fields.
Although emphasizing that prions have never been reported in wastewater treatment plant water or biosolids, the researchers note that existing tests are not sufficiently sensitive to detect the extremely low levels of prions possible in those materials. In other words, they have never been proven to be free of prions or capable of stopping them from being released back into the environment with discharges or sewage sludge.
As such, wastewater treatment plants are spreading this infectious waste far and wide because they are incapable of stopping prions. All by-products and discharges from wastewater treatment plants are infectious waste, which are contributing to the global epidemic of neurodegenerative disease among humans, wildlife and livestock. Sewage treatment plants can’t detect or stop prions. Just ask the U.S. EPA and the industry trade organization—the Wastewater Effluent Federation. Sewage sludge (biosolids) and wastewater reclamation are causing widespread contamination.
Once unleashed on the environment, prions remain infectious. They migrate, mutate and multiply as they infect crops, water supplies and more.
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Deer, elk, moose and reindeer are now contracting prion disease from humans. To help cloak the epidemic, it’s called chronic wasting disease (CWD). Deer with CWD are proverbial canaries in a coal mine.
When cattle are exposed to prions, it’s being called mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, which is just a clever way of saying transmissible spongiform encephalopathy). Species barriers are a myth and part of the cover-up.
Unfortunately, prions linger in the environment, homes, hospitals, nursing homes, dental offices and beyond infinitely. Prions defy all attempts at sterilization and inactivation. If they can’t stop prions in the friendly and sterile confines of an operating room, they can’t stop them in the wastewater treatment plant.
The risk assessments prepared by the U.S. EPA for wastewater treatment and sewage sludge are flawed and current practices of recycling this infectious waste is fueling a public health disaster. Many risks are not addressed, including prions and radioactive waste. They don’t mention prions or radiation because there is no answer. Most nations are making the same mistake. We’re dumping killer proteins on crops, parks, golf courses, gardens, ski areas, school grounds and beyond. Wind, rain and irrigation spread these contaminants and many more throughout our communities and watersheds. It’s time to stop the land application of sewage sludge (LASS) in all nations. Safer alternatives exist.
For more information, read “Persistence of Pathogenic Prion Protein during Simulated Wastewater Treatment Processes,” http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es703186e
Contact the leading expert on prions in soil and sewage sludge, Joel A. Pedersen. Ph.D., University of Wisconsin
Phone: (608) 263-4971
Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and the prion disease epidemic is an area of special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform firstname.lastname@example.org.