I wish that I could support wastewater reclamation and the application of sewage sludge (biosolids) on open land. Unfortunately, I have reversed course on my position over the past decade and now I only see unacceptable risks. The reason for my reversal is an unstoppable, deadly protein particle called a prion.
The problem is that prion diseases are on the rise around the world in people and animals. Since prions cause a deadly, incurable disease in people, wildlife and livestock, it seems to be prudent to question prion pathways and policies. Prion diseases kill everything in their path. There is no cure. They are always fatal. Since prions are unstoppable, they are a threat to food and water supplies around the world. Carelessly spreading prions via any pathway is reckless and criminal. Since the safety of biosolids cannot be proven, the practice must be stopped based on common sense.
We know these prion diseases (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies–TSEs) as:
Mad Cow (BSE) in cattle. Mad cow disease has emerged significantly around the globe over the past 30 years. Few countries have been immune.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and Alzheimer’s disease in humans. At least 10-20 percent of Alzheimer’s disease cases are actually Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Since both are prion diseases, the difference is likely due to genetic and chemistry variations in the host or due to a prion mutation prior to exposure.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) deer, elk and moose. Meanwhile, prion disease is on the rise among wildlife. Deer, elk, moose and other mammals have been dying from chronic wasting disease for more than 30 years, but the impacted regions continue to spread. The deadly disease has been found from Utah to Pennsylvania and from Canada south to Texas.
Scrapie in sheep. Farmers in Europe have reported sick and incurable sheep for about 300 years or more. Some speculate that this is one of the origins of the outbreak because they over-bred sheep for specific genetic traits and weakened the herds. Then some of the sick animals became feed for other livestock.
While the death rate for many major diseases, including heart disease and many forms of cancer, are declining, the death rate from Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) are on the rise among many populations (in some regions more than others). If Alzheimer’s and CJD were truly random diseases without environmental influence, the death rate from these diseases would be fairly consistent around the world. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. People who live in Washington State or the Dakotas, for example, are almost twice as likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease as people elsewhere in the nation. Women are almost twice as likely as men to die of Alzheimer’s disease. Children in New jersey are much more likely to develop autism. Why?
People and animals are exposed to prions in multiple ways. Many cattle got the disease from feed that was made from ground up cattle carcasses–a cheap source of protein and an elimination of disposal costs. Some animals have been infected by touching noses with infected animals or licking or ingesting material that sick animals touched. Others were exposed to the infectious waste dumped on land.
Since infected animals have the deadly prions in their blood, urine, feces, saliva and tissue, they basically contaminate their entire environment–even after death. Animals or carcasses that come along behind them are at risk of exposure and infection. Cattle also are exposed to prions in sewage sludge.
The same risks are present for people. A person with prion disease will permanently infect cups, utensils, dental instruments and surgical instruments. In fact, most coroners refuse to conduct an autopsy on people who are suspected of having prion disease. Call your favorite coroner and ask.
Furthermore, people with prion disease also contaminate their toilets with their bodily fluids and excretions, which contaminate the sewage treatment plant. Just one person with a prion disease will contaminate every sewage system used–forever. Most cities have had more than one resident or visitor with prion disease, which means that prions are incubating and spreading within the pipes and the treatment plants of most sewage plants around the world. Additional prions arrive frequently thanks to the growing population of people with Alzheimer’s disease or CJD.
The prion problem grows thanks to sewage recycling efforts–prions are spread on golf courses, parks and crops as reclaimed water and as biosolid applications. Entire watersheds are at risk as rain, snow and irrigation can rinse the deadly prions into creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes, oceans and groundwater. Some states, such as Wisconsin, have applied biosolids in almost every county of the state. Wisconsin also has one of the worst epidemics of chronic wasting disease in the nation. Unfortunately, the sick deer contribute to the the contamination as they expose other animals, hunters, soil, and water.
The prion problem escalates when you realize that we are dumping millions of gallons of sewage into our rivers and oceans every day. I wonder how many dolphins and whales that beach themselves or just wash ashore are victims of prion disease?
Does it all sound too much like a sci-fi thriller? The plot thickens.
Dr. Stanley Prusiner earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for identifying, naming and studying deadly prions. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the growing significance of his discovery. (In June 2012, Prusiner confirmed that Alzheimer’s disease is a prion disease like CJD and mad cow.)
In fact, prions now are such a formidable threat that the United States government enacted the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 to halt research on infectious prions in the United States in all but two laboratories. Now, infectious prions are classified as select agents that require special security clearance for lab research. The intent is to keep prions and other dangerous biological materials away from terrorists who might use them to contaminate, food, water, blood, equipment, and entire facilities.
If prions must be tightly regulated in a laboratory environment today, the outdoor environment should be managed accordingly. If we can’t sterilize surgical equipment used on people who have prion disease, why are we kidding ourselves that we can neutralize prions in sewage? Dilution is not a solution to prion contamination. They don’t have a half-life like radiation. They multiply, which means even one will become many. They can’t be stopped.
Recycling water and waste is a good idea, except when it concentrates and recycles deadly diseases and pathogens that migrate, mutate and multiply. Prions are worse than radiation. That’s why the Department of Homeland Security has classified them as a “special agent” that must be controlled in only two labs in the entire country. Therefore, we should not make our lands and waters an outdoor chemistry experiment that can blow up in our face–and our children’s.
Any place that recycles sewage water and sewage sludge (biosolids) is spreading pathogens and misinformation–if not outright lies. These lands could someday be condemned as Superfund sites and our diminishing water supplies could be further lost to permanent contamination.
For more information on this topic please visit http://garychandler.com/pandoras-lunchbox-filled-with-prions/ you will see that the EPA and others are mismanaging these prion risks. I hope that you don’t make the same mistake. I would be happy to discuss this matter and consult with your agency to manage this issue.
Alzheimer’s disease patients shed infectious prions in their blood, saliva, mucus, urine and feces. The infectious prions bind to the sewage sludge, including sludge biosolids compost, being applied on home gardens, US cropland, grazing fields and dairy pastures, putting humans, family pets, wildlife and livestock at risk.
Other prion contaminated wastes discharged to sewers include rendering plants (which process remains of 2 million potentially BSE infected downer cows each year), slaughterhouses, embalmers and morticians, biocremation, taxidermists, butcher shops, veterinary and necropsy labs, hospitals, landfill leachates (where CWD infected and other carcasses are disposed), etc.
The US EPA lists prions as a contaminant of concern in sewage sludge and water eight times. The EPA issued what it calls the “Sludge Rule,” which basically disclaims any responsibility for its premature and questionable risk assessments as it relates to all toxins and pathogens found in biosolids. It reserves the right to adjust the risk assessments as the test of time may disprove its pseudo-science.
Renown prion researcher, Dr. Joel Pedersen, University of Wisconsin, found that prions become 680 times more infective in certain soils. Dr. Pedersen’s research also proved sewage treatment does not inactivate prions.
“Our results suggest that if prions were to enter municipal waste water treatment systems, most of the agent would partition to activated sludge solids, survive mesophilic anaerobic digestion, and be present in treated biosolids. Land application of biosolids containing prions could represent a route for their unintentional introduction into the environment. Our results argue for excluding inputs of prions to municipal waste water treatment,” said Pedersen.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently warned that plants can uptake infectious prions: “. . . there is a potential risk to humans via direct ingestion of the compost or of compost particles adhered to skin or plant material (e.g. carrots). Another potential route of exposure is by ingestion of prions that have been taken up by plants.”