Recycling Sewage Recycles Brain Disease

Sewage Sludge Spreading Deadly Diseases

I wish that I could support wastewater reclamation and the application of sewage sludge (biosolids). 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 a microscopic 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 disease and prions

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.

chronic wasting disease caused by prions

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-Jakobs disease 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, for example, are lmost 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. 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. 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.

land application 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.

prion disease epidemic

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.

biosolids land application and disease

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 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 epidemic

Fact Sheet

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.

sewage treatment plant and disease

“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.

“Prions could end up in waste water treatment plants via slaughterhouse drains, hunted game cleaned in a sink, or humans with vCJD shedding prions in their urine or feces,” Pedersen says. “The disposal of sewage sludge was considered to represent the greatest risk of spreading (prion) infectivity to other premises.” It is well known that sewage sludge pathogens, pharmaceutical residue and chemical pollutants are taken up by plants and vegetables. 

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.”

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Gary Chandler is a public affairs, public relations and issue management strategist with Crossbow Communications, based in Denver and Phoenix. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform

Biosolids, Reclaimed Wastewater Spread Neurological Disease

Prions Unstoppable In Sewage Sludge, Reclaimed Wastewater

When Alice Cho Snyder and her husband Mark bought a 13-acre farm near Everett, Wash., last July, they thought they were going to be organic farmers, not the epicenter of a biosolids storm. Shortly after the Snyders closed on the property, Snohomish County officials notified the couple that biosolids were slated to be applied on 250 acres of land bordering their property.

Biosolids is an industry term for infectious and toxic sewage sludge that has been treated to remove most (or in some cases, nearly all) pathogens. After being somewhat defanged, biosolids are used as fertilizer or soil amendments.

biosolids land application and disease

The trigger words here — for the Snyders and for nearly anyone concerned with health and the environment — are “sewage” and “most” pathogens. Anytime a public agency or any other entity proposes spreading human waste, bacteria, viruses and other toxic contaminants over the landscape, regardless of the purpose, eyebrows are going to go up.

For the Snyders and those who don’t know much about sludge or how it’s applied to land, biosolids sound new, threatening and complicated. “We all want to support locally produced food,” says Alice, “but not if grown in sludge.”

Using sewage sludge for fertilizer might sound threatening, at face value, but it’s hardly a new practice. About 700 million tons of dry sewage waste (most of it originating at wastewater treatment plants) is applied to land in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

About 58,000 dry tons of biosolids were applied to agricultural lands in Washington in 2010, says Daniel Thompson, state biosolids regulator for the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Despite the inglorious name, sewage sludge isn’t just pumped directly onto land. The vast majority of biosolids fit EPA’s “Class B” category, meaning it has been treated to remove some of the pathogens in the original slurry. Sewage isn’t just human waste. It also contains heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, carcinogens and an unstoppable pathogen known as prions).

EPA sets limits on the presence of eight heavy metals (arsenic and mercury have the most stringent requirements). Few U.S. treatment plants are equipped to produce the more costly “Class A” biosolids — wastes in which some pathogens have been reduced to a point “below detectable levels.” That perspective is overly optimistic.

land application sewage sludge

The obvious question is whether killing or removing some of the pathogens in a given volume of sludge is enough. Is it enough that in a given volume of sewage, only 5 percent of the E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Norwalk viruses (and potentially others) remain?

For more than three decades, EPA has offered a resounding yes. The agency has promoted biosolids as “safe and beneficial” at least since 1981, after first developing risk guidelines in 1979. The current EPA regulations (called the 503 Rule) for what the agency calls sewage sludge and biosolids took effect in 1993.

Biosolids Not Safe For Parks, Golf Courses, Crops or School Grounds

biosolids land application LASS

David L. Lewis, Ph.D., a research microbiologist for EPA for 32 years, contends the agency based its 1993 regulations on “faked data” in an effort to “cover up adverse health effects from heavy metals and other hazardous materials contained in the toxic and infectious waste.”

Lewis, now senior science adviser for the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C., says biosolids are “a serious threat to public health and the environment.” Lewis says he was fired in 2003 after authoring a series of articles in “Nature,” “Environmental Health Perspectives” and other publications that criticized EPA’s science policies and practices, and the agency’s management (and promotion) of biosolids in particular.

“Biosolids are one of the most regulated soil amendments out there,” argues Sally Brown, Ph.D., a research associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. “I use biosolids to grow my own vegetables. They’re a wonderful asset.”

Brown, who specializes in the ecology of soils and serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Composting Council, adds, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Brown notes that biosolids have been used to reclaim soil health on several EPA Superfund sites, including the infamous Bunker Hill mining complex in Idaho, where mining operations begun in 1917 left 1.3 million cubic yards of tailings contaminated with lead, zinc and industrial wastes in the watershed of the south fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. The mine closed in 1981 and eventually became the locus of EPA’s largest Superfund settlement — $1.7 billion to date.

And so it goes. There seem to be few agricultural practices as contentious and fraught with counterclaims as whether biosolids are a public health disaster.

Farmers such as Alice Cho Snyder say, “The more we find out, the more we are convinced that this is a critical public health issue that needs to be addressed openly.”

Alice says she’s worried that if her neighbor’s application to use biosolids is approved by Snohomish County land-use officials, bacteria and toxins will wash over her property when the area floods, which she says it has — twice in the last five years.

prion disease epidemic

A pathological legacy

The safety of biosolids has been addressed openly, but not conclusively. One question readers might ask is whether the agencies or entities that promote biosolids as safe are themselves competent to know (or say) what safe is (or means).

In 2002 EPA’s own Inspector General determined that the agency “does not have an effective program for ensuring land compliance” of biosolids, and thus “cannot assure the public that current land application practices are protective of human health and the environment.” The report also criticized EPA for conducting “virtually no inspections of land application sites.”

The Inspector General also castigated EPA for not collecting data on accumulated pollutants at biosolids application sites despite the fact that federal law requires the agency to collect such data. EPA also failed to monitor whether producers or appliers actually adhered to federal regulations. The Inspector General concluded that EPA’s failure to commit resources to the biosolids program constituted an “almost complete absence of a federal presence,” adding that the agency’s conduct “may result in increased risks to the environment.”

That was 10 years ago, which leads to the inevitable question: has EPA intensified its oversight of biosolids? When the Inspector General leveled these charges, EPA had 18 full-time employees assigned to sewage sludge.

chronic wasting disease caused by prions

Lax Regulation Ignores Science

This past December, I requested current staffing data from the agency. Enesta Jones, a public affairs specialist for the agency, responded that “finding a precise figure was going to be hard …” The agency has yet to report so much as a single full-time employee currently working on biosolids.

These criticisms hardly inspire confidence in EPA as a biosolids regulator. But even the regulations themselves are suspect, according to Lewis and others. In February 2008, federal judge Anthony Alamo concluded the data used (in part) to develop EPA’s biosolids guidelines were “unreliable, incomplete and in some cases, fudged …”

Alamo’s condemnation of the science behind EPA’s regulations was issued during an Augusta, Ga., lawsuit. Several farmers alleged that biosolids shipped from a nearby wastewater plant had contaminated their jointly owned farm, killing several hundred cattle and forcing closure of the farm. Andy McElmurray and other farmers ultimately settled out of U.S. District Court for $1.3 million after arguing that high levels of chromium and molybdenum in biosolids were responsible for the cattle deaths, and for the loss of their livelihood.

No human deaths have been linked conclusively to biosolids (although one death has been alleged — that of Shayne Conner in 1995 in Greenland, N.H.). EPA’s regulations do make an attempt to minimize human contact with biosolids, by regulating how much time has to pass before crops in contact with biosolids can be consumed. The time lag is meant to allow a natural die-off of whatever pathogens remain in Class B biosolids. The regulations, however, don’t set limits on any manufactured organic compounds in biosolids. They also fail to account for infectious prions, which migrate, mutate and multiply.

Biosolids Research

In 2008 scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University found that earthworms in soil plots amended with biosolids had bioaccumulated multiple human-manufactured compounds, including: disinfectants, anti-foaming agents and flame retardants, antibiotics, synthetic fragrances, detergents and pesticides, as well as other chemicals “reflecting a wide range of physicochemical properties” (Environmental Science & Technology, Feb. 20, 2008). Some of the same compounds were found in earthworms living in soils treated with animal manure.

In 2006 scientists from Eastern Washington University and the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Water Quality Laboratory found a total of 87 different human-manufactured compounds in biosolids originating from wastewater treatment plants in seven U.S. states. The researchers described biosolids as a “potentially ubiquitous nonpoint source” of “contaminants” in the environment (Environmental Science and Technology, Sept. 13, 2006).

“A minimum of 30 and a maximum of 45 [wastewater contaminants] were detected in any one biosolid,” the scientists noted.

EPA’s 2009 Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Report found 28 metals in every biosolids sample from 74 randomly selected water treatment plants in 35 states. The samples, collected in 2006 and 2007, also contained 72 pharmaceuticals, 25 steroids and hormones, flame retardants, and a variety of “semi-volatile organics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.”

Again, this is not comforting to the Snyders or other organic farmers. They’d like to know that when EPA says, “It’s safe,” it means safe. In the meantime, the Snyders are waiting for a hearing with Snohomish County officials. The state Department of Ecology approved an application to spread biosolids on the neighboring property, but county officials have argued that the state cannot preempt local land-use regulations.

Tom Rowe, permitting manager for Snohomish County, says the county is planning a hydrology survey of the area to determine what impact flooding (among other issues) might have on public health if biosolids are allowed. Rowe says the county plans to hold a public hearing on the issue.

In the meantime, the Synders are a little more than flushed with concern.

Joel Preston Smith is a writer and photographer living in Portland.

Author’s notes

  1. Readers might wonder why biosolids are produced at all. The Clean Water Act of 1972 outlawed what was then a largely unregulated practice in the United States — dumping raw sewage or minimally treated human and industrial wastes into streams, rivers, lakes and other open bodies of water.EPA estimates the average family in the United States uses about 400 gallons of water a day, which doesn’t include industrial use. The portion that is wastewater can’t be dumped untreated, per the 1972 law. It has to go somewhere, thus the production of biosolids. It’s more costly, most treatment plants have found, to put it in landfills than to pay (in many cases) contractors to haul it away for use as fertilizer.
  2. In addition to removing 95 percent of the pathogens present in a given volume of sewage, the manufacturer and the entity applying biosolids to land are required to take steps to reduce the “attractiveness” of sewage sludge to pests such as mosquitoes, flies and other disease vectors.There are also EPA requirements for monitoring and reporting land application of biosolids. Note that EPA’s Inspector General has stated, however, that EPA is not monitoring whether the regulations are being followed. It should also be noted that EPA’s 503 Rule does not require that 95 percent of all pathogens be removed in order to merit a Class B designation for biosolids. The rule governs specific indicator pathogens, such as E. coli and Salmonella.One potential problem in relying only on indicator pathogens is the assumption that all pathogens in a given sample will respond to chemical or environmental purification procedures in basically the same way. Researchers have stated that about one entirely new pathogen is found in wastewater each year whose virulence as a disease vector in biosolids — due to the fact that the pathogen is new — isn’t known; without knowing what is in biosolids, it isn’t really possible to know that what is there is responding to purification treatments.The rationale for limiting the list to a series of “indicator” organisms lies in a desire for cost effectiveness for the producers of biosolids, which, for the most part, are municipal water-treatment facilities. It’s costly to test for pathogens; EPA has, in essence, determined that a given volume of sludge is unlikely to harbor enough pathogens (lying outside the list of “indicator” pathogens) to constitute a significant risk to the public.
  3. Regarding the tonnage of biosolids applied in Washington state annually: Marietta Sharp, a soil scientist for the Washington State Department of Ecology, points out that less than one-tenth of one percent of all agricultural lands in the state were amended with biosolids last year. “Most people [who’ve heard about the practice of using biosolids for fertilizer] think it’s a foot thick,” she notes. “It’s not.”Daniel Thompson observes that about 80 percent of biosolids produced in Washington are applied to land; the remaining 20 percent is burned in one of the state’s five incinerators. What isn’t clear is whether the state has included in those figures timberland, tree farms and other lands that do not produce crops for food consumption. If the State Department of Ecology includes those lands, that would tend to skew the figure toward the appearance of lower amounts of biosolids being applied overall. The department has not responded to questions regarding whether timberlands or tree farms were used in the calculation.
  4. Regarding the cost-effectiveness of producing biosolids: Sally Brown notes that “retrofitting [a Class B biosolids treatment plant to bring it up to Class A capability] can cost millions and millions of dollars, and they’re lucky right now if they can make payroll.”King County, she adds, recently found it would cost $27 million per treatment plant to bring its facilities up to Class A standards. Class A biosolids can be sold for home-garden composting, but Class B products cannot. It’s usually more cost effective to treat sewage only to meet the Class B standard.Daniel Thompson notes that about 12 percent of biosolids produced in Washington state meet the Class A standard.
  5. Readers may come to the conclusion that EPA’s management of biosolids is fraught with incompetence and/or negligence, that the agency has been influenced by political and economic concerns to the detriment of public safety, and has failed to rectify (or even address) problems identified by its Inspector General and the U.S. Government Accounting Office and others. This author believes such a conclusion is reasonably well-supported by a thorough survey of the allegations against EPA (the most troubling have been leveled by federal agencies) and the supporting evidence.The author also believes, however, that applying the same judgment to the Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) isn’t merited. The DOE appears to have more staff developing biosolids policies, as well as regulating and monitoring the production of biosolids and the land applications themselves, than EPA has as a whole for the nation. If EPA ever does discover that it has tasked someone with managing biosolids, chances are the agency is doing far less to monitor sewage sludge than the DOE is. Daniel Thompson observes that Washington state inspects land application sites and “has a comprehensive regulatory program in place.” He adds that “most other states have their own biosolids programs as well.”
  6. Regarding the presence of personal-care products in biosolids: the researchers defined personal-care products as “fragrances, skin care and hair care products, insect repellents, cleaning products and flame retardants.” The American Society of Microbiologists has pointed out that the risks associated with toxins in personal-care products are higher in dwellings (where the products are being used to a greater extent than they are in the “landscape at large” and accumulate in dust) than they are in biosolids.A valid argument could be made that if the public was truly concerned about these compounds, it might be campaigning for their removal from personal-care products, rather than just worrying over whether the toxins are going to be found later in biosolids after passing through the human digestive tract.
  7. Untreated manures can harbor as many as 150 different types of enteric (occurring in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and other animals) pathogens, according to Charles P. Gerba, a faculty member with the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz. See “Sources of pathogenic microorganisms and their fate during land application of wastes,” Journal of Environmental Quality: 34:42–48 (2005). In asking whether biosolids are safe, it would be wise to consider their impact on public health compared with using untreated animal wastes, petroleum-based fertilizers, and other soil amendments that might present greater threats to the environment than do biosolids.
  8. One of EPA’s most troubling disappearing acts has been the removal of molybdenum from the watch list for heavy metals. EPA set a tolerance level of 75 mg/kilogram for Mo in 1993 but has since withdrawn the standard — not because Mo suddenly has been shown to be beneficial to humans, but because of a lawsuit against the standard.So, again, are biosolids safe? What concentration of Mo is acceptable in soil? EPA, in removing all restrictions on Mo, has said in essence said that what’s safe for you is whatever limit keeps EPA out of court. That essentially means no limits on Mo whatsoever. EPA, on the other hand, says, “Repeated exposure to molybdenum can cause increased uric acid accompanied by gout-like symptoms. In cud-chewing animals eating feed low in copper, molybdenum poisoning can be severe.”The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, says, “Molybdenum is generally considered to be of low human toxicity, and clinical or epidemiologic evidence of adverse effects is limited.”EPA notes that it is planning to “reevaluate” Mo and the pollutants it discovered nine years ago in a 2003 biosolids survey. USDA states, “Following legal challenge, most Mo numerical standards were withdrawn, pending additional field-generated data using modern biosolids and pathway reassessment.”
  9. Regarding what “safe” truly means: Most people would consider a thing, or activity, as safe if they believe the risks associated with it are acceptable. Safe doesn’t necessarily mean “no one will be harmed.”The question of safety is, ultimately, a question of interconnected probabilities; the odds that something is safe isn’t just a calculation of the mortality and morbidity associated with exposure to a given toxin. The math behind “safe” is a mystery to most of us. It involves such calculations as, at what level of occurrence of disease are the infected parties (or, say, their next of kin) likely to seek medical attention, be diagnosed with a condition that can be linked with a reasonable degree of certainty with a specific cause, and so on. As for what is considered to be an acceptable level of risk, that is (in part) a measure of the probability that the (alleged) victim will enjoin the alleged source of the harmful agent (say a water-treatment plant) in a lawsuit.An “acceptable level of risk” is also a determination of the probability that a given alleged victim will win such a suit; it’s based partly on an estimation of the upper limit of what damages might be awarded. “Safe” isn’t a suit of armor. It doesn’t mean you’re invincible. It just means the odds are in your favor. It’s something intangible — a number. More precisely, it’s an algorithm — a calculation concerning (in part) how likely you’d be to seek a remedy if you’re harmed.The biosolids industry is very fond of noting that “There is no documented scientific evidence that the Part 503 rule has failed to protect public health” (quoted from a National Research Council Report, “Biosolids applied to land: advancing standards and practices,” July, 2002). It’s an old citation, one used as a mantra by the Northeast Biosolids and Residuals Association and other biosolids promoters, but this author believes it to be strictly true, to date.Strictly is the key word. The studies referred to in the NRC’s report have failed to demonstrate, under the rigors of the scientific method, human harm from biosolids.This does not mean there has not been, or will not be harm. It means in some cases that the methodology in the studies prevented researchers from reaching a scientifically valid conclusion demonstrating a relationship between harm and the presence (the ingestion, inhalation, etc.) of pathogens or other harmful agents in biosolids. For example, a survey by scientists employed by the state of Virginia of 23 scientific studies concerned with the relationship between biosolids and human health reported that, “The observed health outcomes … included toxic exposures, viral, bacterial and protozoan infections, and irritation and allergic reactions.”Sally Brown notes that the ruling in the McElmurray lawsuit (in which McElmurray and others were awarded $1.3 million against a biosolids producer) has since been overturned. However, a reversal of the award does not necessarily mean that all evidence and arguments regarding EPA’s conduct (regarding, for example, whether the data on which the 503 Rule was based were in fact “fudged” or not) are themselves automatically negated. The questions regarding the safety of biosolids and what was responsible for the deaths of the McElmurray’s cattle still remain in the minds of the public.How, a reader might wonder, can the industry claim there are no documented negative health effects if the studies are in fact reporting illnesses?Because in many of the studies, the crucial step that might have demonstrated a linkage between biosolids and a given reported illness was not taken. The Virginia researchers note that in three studies that “documented complaints of gastrointestinal illness related to sewage sludge,” the authors of the study did not obtain “serological evidence.” In other words, people became sick; they themselves had reported an exposure to biosolids, but the researchers did not follow up with lab tests that would have confirmed (or negated) the presence of pathogens, and they did not test the biosolids in question for pathogens.Again, and again, and again, a thorough examination of the studies themselves shows a pattern in which researchers fail to do more than note an anecdotal linkage between illnesses and biosolids. Sick people. Biosolids. Not enough data. Conclusion? Biosolids are safe.The author wishes to belabor the point: imagine that a man lies mangled on the road. No one got the license number, the make or the model of the semi that ran him down. Conclusion? It couldn’t have been a truck.


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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 special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform

Mad Cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Alzheimer’s Disease Spreading With Sewage

Prions Connect Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies

The U.S. government’s monitoring system for cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal human brain illness, could be missing tens of thousands of victims, scientists and consumer advocates said.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or CJD can be caused by prion exposure, including eating beef contaminated with mad cow disease, but the critics assert without a better tracking system it might be impossible to determine whether any CJD cases are due to mad cow disease or obtain an accurate picture of the prevalence of the disorder in the United States.

Alzheimer's disease epidemic

In order to understand the threat, one must understand the dynamics of this neurological disease. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a member of an aggressive family of neurodegenerative diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.”

TSEs are caused by a deadly protein called a prion (PREE-on). As such, TSEs also are referred to as prion disease. The critical factor is that prions are unstoppable. The pathogen spreads through the bodily fluids and cell tissue of its victims. Blood, saliva, mucus, milk, urine and feces carry deadly prions from victims. All tissue is infectious just because of the contact with the contaminated blood.

TSEs also include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease in the deer family. Few, if any, mammals are immune. There is no cure.

Dr. Stanley Prusiner, an American neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco, earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering and characterizing deadly prions and prion disease. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the importance of his research. According to Prusiner, TSEs all are on the same disease spectrum, which is more accurately described as prion disease. He claims that all TSEs are caused by prions.

prion disease epidemic

Prions are unstoppable and the pathogen spreads through the bodily fluids and cell tissue of its victims. Prions shed from humans are the most deadly mutation. They demand more respect than radiation. Infected surgical instruments, for example, are impossible to sterilize and hospitals throw them away. Prions are in the blood, saliva, urine, feces, mucus, and bodily tissue of its victims. Many factors are contributing to the epidemic. Prions are now the X factor. Industry and government are not accounting for them or regulating them. They are ignoring the threat completely, which violates the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 in the United States. Other nations also are ignoring laws developed to protect food, air and water.

“There is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s disease,” says Thomas Wiesniewski M.D. a prion and Alzheimer’s researcher at New York University School of Medicine. “In fact, this ability to transmit an abnormal conformation is probably a universal property of amyloid-forming proteins (prions).”

A new study published in the journal Nature renews concern about the transmissibility of Alzheimer’s disease between people. A second study by the same scientist in early 2016 adds to the stack of evidence.

The first symptoms of CJD typically include memory loss and difficulty keeping balance and walking. As the disease destroys the brain, patients rapidly progress in a matter of months to difficulty with movement, an inability to talk and swallow and, finally, death.

Clusters of CJD have been reported in various areas of the United States — Pennsylvania in 1993, Florida in 1994, Oregon in 1996, New York in 1999-2000 and Texas in 1996. In addition, several people in New Jersey developed CJD in recent years, including a 56-year-old woman who died on May 31, 2003. Although in some instances, a mad cow link was suspected, all of the cases ultimately were classified as sporadic. The common thread is more likely sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, dumped on land.

land application sewage sludge

People who develop CJD from eating prion-contaminated beef have been thought to develop a specific form of the disorder called variant CJD. But new research, released last December, indicates the mad cow pathogen can cause both sporadic CJD and the variant form. A deadly prion is a deadly prion and there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of mutations.

“Now people are beginning to realize that because something looks like sporadic CJD they can’t necessarily conclude that it’s not linked to mad cow disease,” said Laura Manuelidis, section chief of surgery in the neuropathology department at Yale University, who conducted a 1989 study that found 13 percent of Alzheimer’s patients actually had CJD.

Several studies, including the one by Manuelidis, have found autopsies reveal 3-percent-to-13-percent of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia actually suffered from CJD. Those numbers might sound low, but there are 4-million Alzheimer’s cases and hundreds of thousands of dementia cases in the United States. A small percentage of those cases could add up to 120,000 or more CJD victims going undetected and not included in official statistics.

biosolids land application

Experiences in England and Switzerland — two countries that discovered mad cow disease in their cattle — have heightened concerns about the possibility some cases of sporadic CJD are due to consuming mad-cow-tainted beef. Both countries have reported increases in sporadic CJD since mad cow was first detected in British herds in 1986.

Switzerland discovered last year its CJD rate was twice that of any other country in the world. Switzerland had been seeing about eight to 11 cases per year from 1997 to 2000. Then the incidence more than doubled, to 19 cases in 2001 and 18 cases in 2002.

The CDC says the annual rate of CJD in the United States is one case per million people, but the above studies suggest the true prevalence of CJD is not known, Manuelidis told UPI.

Diagnosing CJD or Alzheimer’s disease is difficult because no test exists that can identify either disease in a living patient with certainty. So physicians must rely on the patient’s symptoms to determine which illness might be present. Sometimes, however, the symptoms of one disease can appear similar to the other disorder. The only way to determine the disease conclusively is to perform an autopsy on the brain after death.

Unfortunately, although autopsies once were performed on approximately half of all corpses, the frequency has dropped to 15 percent or less in the United States. The National Center for Health Statistics — a branch of the CDC — stopped collecting autopsy data in 1995.

“If we don’t do autopsies and we don’t look at people’s brains, we have no idea about what is the general prevalence of these kinds of infections and (whether) it is changing,” Manuelidis said.

At the same time autopsies have been declining, the number of deaths attributed to Alzheimer’s disease has increased more than 50-fold since 1979, going from 857 deaths then to nearly 50,000 in 2000. Though it is unlikely the dramatic increase in Alzheimer’s is due entirely to misdiagnosed CJD cases, it “could explain some of the increase we’ve seen,” Manuelidis said.

“Neurodegenerative disease and Alzheimer’s disease have become a wastebasket” for mental illness in the elderly that is difficult to diagnose conclusively, she said. “In other words, what people call Alzheimer’s now is more broad than what people used to call it, and that has the possibility of encompassing more diseases — including CJD.”

The autopsy studies that found undiagnosed CJD cases raise the question of whether the United States “already has an undetected epidemic here,” Jeff Nelson, director of, a vegetarian advocacy Web site, told UPI.

“What’s the source of that?” Nelson asked. “Could it be the same source of encephalopathy we saw in mink?”

Nelson referred to an outbreak of a mad-cow-type disorder in mink in Wisconsin in the 1980s. The origin was traced back to the animals’ diet, which included parts of so-called downer cattle — sick cows that are unable to stand, which often indicates a neurological disease, including mad cow. The mink disease raised concerns about whether U.S. cattle were carrying a mad-cow-like pathogen even prior to the U.K. epidemic that began in 1986.

Andrew Monjan, chief of the neuropsychology of aging program at the National Institute of Aging — part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. — acknowledged there has been an increase in U.S. Alzheimer’s cases. However, he told UPI, this probably is due to the aging of the population — as people grow older, they develop a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s (bullshit).

“There’s been no change in the number of CJD cases in the country and there has been clearly a tracking of the unusual cases of CJD” that could be due to mad cow disease, Monjan said. However, Terry Singletary, coordinator of CJD Watch — an organization founded to track CJD cases — says efforts to track the disease have been close to nonexistent. For example, only 12 states require such reports. Therefore, many cases might be going undetected, unreported or misdiagnosed.

mad cow disease

If more states made CJD a reportable illness, there would be more clusters detected across the United States, said Singletary, who became involved with CJD advocacy after his mother died from a form of CJD known as Heidenhain variant. In the 18-year period between 1979 and 1996, he noted, the country saw a jump from one case of sporadic CJD in people under the age of 30 — a warning sign for a link to mad cow because nearly all of the U.K. victims were 30 years of age or younger — to five cases in five years between 1997 and 2001. “That represents a substantial blip,” he told UPI.

Singletary also said there have been increases in sporadic CJD in France, Germany and Italy, all of which have detected mad cow disease in their cattle.

So far, the CDC has refused to impose a national requirement that physicians and hospitals report cases of the disease. The agency has not chosen to make CJD a reportable disease because “making it reportable is not necessarily directly helpful in surveillance because in some states where it’s reportable you may not get the physician to report it,” said Dr. Ermias Belay, CDC’s medical epidemiologist working on CJD.

Instead, the agency relies on other methods, including death certificates and urging physicians to send suspicious cases to the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, which is funded by the CDC. However, because autopsies generally are not done, if a CJD case is misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or dementia, a correct diagnosis might never be determined and therefore the cause of death listed on a death certificate might be inaccurate.

Belay told UPI he discounted this possibility. It is unlikely to happen, he said, because it is easy to distinguish CJD from Alzheimer’s — the two conditions display different symptoms.

Manuelidis disagreed. It can be quite difficult to determine accurately if a patient has CJD, as evidenced by her study, in which respected and competent neurologists and psychiatrists at Yale originally diagnosed patients with Alzheimer’s, yet were wrong at least 13 percent of the time. Another study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, which found 6 percent of dementia patients actually were suffering from CJD, supports the difficulty in distinguishing the illnesses correctly.

The U. Penn. researchers concluded: “These results show that in patients with a clinical diagnosis of dementia, the etiology (cause) cannot be accurately predicted during life.”

In addition, the NPDPSC sees less than half of all the CJD cases each year, so the CDC’s investigational system not only is missing many of the misdiagnosed CJD cases, it also is not conducting autopsies on most of the detected cases.

Belay said the CDC follows up on all cases of CJD that occur in people under age 55, as these could be linked to variant — mad-cow-related — CJD. But so far, all have turned out to be sporadic forms of the disease. About 30 cases of the disorder occur each year in the United States in this age group, while the remaining 270 or so are older.

The case of Carrie Mahan — a Philadelphia woman who developed a brain disorder that appeared to be CJD and died from it in 2000 at the age of 29 — illustrates just how difficult it can be to diagnose the disease.

Mahan’s physician, Dr. Peter Crinos of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, ruled out other disorders and felt certain the young woman had died of CJD, a concern that raised the possibility of a link to mad cow disease because of her young age. When neuropathologist Nicholas Gonatas, who had seen CJD before, examined Mahan’s brain after her death, he, likewise, was confident he detected the microscopic, sponge-like holes caused by the disease. But when he sent brain samples to the NPDPSC, the results came back negative. Gonatas, convinced the surveillance center’s finding was erroneous, sent off two more samples, only to have them both come back negative.

Subsequent research, however, has shown the test used by the surveillance center cannot rule out CJD, said Crinos, an assistant professor of neurology.

“There’s no question that Carrie had a spongiform encephalopathy,” Crinos said, but added although it appeared to be CJD, it is difficult if not impossible to say if it was due to mad cow disease.

Crinos told UPI until the CDC implements a better tracking system, a lot of questions will remain about CJD and cases like Carrie Mahan’s. One central question: Why are cases of what is presumed to be a rare disease popping up in clusters in certain areas of the country? Crinos said the clustering suggests an environmental or food-borne cause, but so far, “No one knows the answer to that.”

The Second Part Of The Prion Equation

We can split hairs about the diagnoses, misdiagnoses and causes of the prion disease forever, but the problem with prions is that the victims are infectious themselves and serve as prion incubators and distributors. The bodily fluids of victims are loaded with infectious prions. Blood, urine, feces, saliva and mucus transport the disease throughout the victims’ environments. Downstream, wastewater treatment plants, for example, 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.

biosolids land application and disease

Once unleashed on the environment, prions remain infectious. They migrate, mutate and multiply as they infect crops, water supplies and more.

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. They are being killed by government sharpshooters to help cover up the problem. It’s insane.

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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