Biosolids, Reclaimed Water Contaminating Food and Water Supplies
People are dying of neurological disease at an accelerating rate, while death rates from most major diseases are dropping. Why the divergence?
Unfortunately, a pathogen associated with neurological disease is spreading uncontrollably. Research suggests that food and water supplies around the world have been contaminated with an unstoppable form of protein known as a prion (PREE-on). Ignorance, negligence, fraud and corruption are fanning the flames today. We’re facing an environmental nightmare.
According to health officials, the epidemic will spread exponentially. The protein epidemic includes Alzheimer’s disease, mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease (deer) and many others. There is no species barrier. Some people die within weeks of symptoms, while others take years. There is no cure.
The Body Count
At least 45 million people around the world already have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Millions of other cases are undiagnosed and misdiagnosed. Doctors have suppressed millions of other diagnoses. It’s an outrage. The epidemic is worse than the public knows. Misinformation is compounding the problem and contributing to the spread of a deadly pathogen.
Two groups of investigators at Rush University in Chicago independently analyzed the epidemic in a double-blind study. Both groups determined that Alzheimer’s-related mortality rates were several times higher than reflected by official figures.
With weak data in mind, the official death toll from Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. alone still increased 68 percent between 2000 and 2010. Millions of additional cases went undiagnosed, misdiagnosed and misreported. The epidemic is expanding exponentially thanks to misinformation, fraud, acts of gross negligence and what appears to be deliberate attempts to put corporate profits over public health.
Pandora-like prions are out of the box and contaminating homes, communities and entire watersheds—including our food and water supplies. It’s time for government and industry to lead, follow or get out of the way of the truth and solutions.
Alzheimer’s disease is a member of an aggressive family of neurodegenerative diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.”
The spectrum of TSEs includes Alzheimer’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, mad cow and chronic wasting disease in deer. It appears that autism is part of the same spectrum. Few, if any, mammals are immune.
TSEs are unstoppable and incurable. The pathogen spreads through the bodily fluids and cell tissue of its victims. Prions have been detected in the blood, urine, mucas, feces, milk, saliva and aerosols from victims of the disease. Blood alone assures that every ounce of the victim is contaminated. As organs and tissue become infected, the body sheds more and more prions into the environment every day. Exposure to these prions puts caregivers in harm’s way. A new study from Duke University found that caregivers of people with dementia are six times more likely to contract the disease.
Prions also are linked to post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans and in the brain damage of athletes like football players who have suffered repeated concussions. It appears that head trauma also can trigger a cascade that converts healthy prions into deadly ones.
It doesn’t matter how the person acquires the disease, victims of prion disease are infectious long before they appear sick. These carriers are leading normal lives, while the disease incubates within. These walking victims are donating blood, eating at your favorite restaurant, going to your dentist and loading public sewer systems with every flush. Unfortunately, much of the sewage is dumped where it contaminates your food and your water.
The Prion Problem
Dr. Stanley Prusiner, an American neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco, earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering, naming and characterizing deadly prions and prion disease. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the rising importance of his research. Unfortunately, U.S. policy on many fronts ignores the perils of prions. Most countries are guilty of the same offense.
When the U.S. government enacted the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, it included a provision to halt research on prions in all but two laboratories. It classified prions as select agents that pose an extreme risk to food, water and more. It was a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, industry pressure convinced the Center For Disease Control to quietly take prions off the list of special agents two years ago. Keeping prions listed threatened to outlaw several multi-billion dollar industries. This reversal kept the floodgates open to the prion threat. Especially regarding sewage, agriculture and water reclamation industries.
The problem with prions is that they linger in the environment infinitely because they defy all attempts at sterilization and inactivation. Unlike viruses or bacteria, prions are not alive. Therefore, they can’t be killed. Victims contaminate cups, dishes, utensils, air and much more with just their saliva, mucas, cough or sneeze. Victims also visit doctors and dentists every day. Some have surgery. Unfortunately, surgical and dental instruments used on these victims are hopelessly contaminated. Hospitals have been successfully sued because of the negligence and the exposure. Now, medical instruments are thrown away after known prion exposure.
If it’s impossible to stop prions in an operating room, it’s impossible to stop them in the challenging environment of a high-volume wastewater treatment facility.
Prions spread uncontrollably and contaminate everything that they touch—much like radiation. Unlike radiation, however, prions do not deplete themselves. They migrate, mutate, multiply and kill with unparalleled efficiency. Each victim becomes an incubator and a distributor of the Pandora-like pathogen. The human prion is resistant to both heat and chemicals. It’s reported that prions released from people are up to a hundred thousand times more difficult to deactivate than prions from most animals.
Prion diseases are killing humans, wildlife and livestock around the world today. It’s been gaining momentum over the past century. So has mismanagement by government, some researchers and industry.
The prion problem is getting worse with rising populations, rising concentrations of people, intensive agriculture, reckless sewage disposal policies and other mismanaged pathways. As the epidemic strikes more people, the pathways for prion exposure explode and intensify. Reckless sewage disposal policies and practices alone are putting billions of innocent people in the crossfire right now. Entire watersheds are endangered thanks to a deadly pathogen that migrates, mutates and multiplies.
“The brain diseases caused by prions includes Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and other disorders known as frontotemporal dementias,” said Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner.
The TSE epidemic represents an environmental nightmare that threatens every mammal on Earth. Related diseases are killing wildlife and livestock around the world. Marine mammals also are vulnerable. Mismanaged sewage is a confirmed pathway to all of them.
Prion disease is a spectrum disease. Some prions can kill people within weeks of exhibiting clinical symptoms, while others take years. Other people may not fall victim to the disease, but they can carry the pathogen internally and externally after exposure. Pathway management and pathway aversion are critical if we hope to save mammals on land and at sea.
Doctors Mismanaging Diagnoses
Since prion disease is a spectrum disease, doctors can’t tell the difference between them. The only definitive diagnosis of a prion disease comes with an autopsy. Autopsies, however, are rarely conducted because of concerns over deadly contamination. A corpse with prion infection will contaminate all tools used by coroners and morticians. Meanwhile, fluids and liquefied organs from these bodies are dumped into the sewage system—destined for your wastewater treatment plant and then some poor farmer’s cornfield and dairy farm.
All doctors are guessing with each Alzheimer’s, CJD or Parkinson’s diagnosis based on the severity of the symptoms. Doctors are withholding millions of additional diagnoses from patients and their families. Regardless of the motive, this censorship puts an unbearable load on families both emotionally and financially. It also puts caregivers in harm’s way, while insulating healthcare companies from expensive patient treatment and care. If healthcare companies tackle the full brunt of the Alzheimer’s epidemic, it will bankrupt them within the next five years. They will continue outrunning claims as long as possible.
Since doctors are essentially guessing on each victim, Alzheimer’s diagnoses are wrong at least 20 percent of the time. Those cases typically are further up the prion-disease spectrum under the term Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). CJD is a more severe and extremely contagious mutation of prion disease.
Only a decade ago, the idea that Alzheimer’s disease might be transmissible between people would have been laughed away. But scientists have now shown that tissues can transmit symptoms of the disease between animals. A new study published in the journal Nature raises additional concern about the transmissibility of Alzheimer’s disease between people.
“This is the first evidence of real-world transmission of amyloid pathology,” says molecular neuroscientist John Hardy of University College London (UCL). “It is potentially concerning.”
Unfortunately for caregivers and family members, the protocol for patient care and caregiver safety is vastly different for Alzheimer’s patients versus CJD patients. This mismanagement puts many stakeholders at risk.
It’s reckless to try to distinguish between prion diseases on the spectrum. The medical community should treat people with Alzheimer’s disease as though they have CJD—as though they are highly contagious. Family members and other caregivers should be warned accordingly. As stated earlier caregivers of those with dementia are six times more likely to contract prion disease than someone who is not a caregiver. That figure is likely a vast underestimation and one that doesn’t include the full prion threat to families and friends of victims.
Pissing In The Pool
Although there are many causes and pathways contributing to the prion disease epidemic, many pathways are being mismanaged, including sewage, biosolids and reclaimed wastewater. As stated earlier, blood, saliva, mucas, urine, feces, milk and cell tissue all carry infectious prions. These human discharges are flushed down toilets and sinks billions of times every day. We all have flushed away toxic or infectious waste that we would never throw on our garden or in our water well. The magic wand at the sewage treatment plant doesn’t phase most elements. It obviously doesn’t phase flesh-eating bacteria, either.
Sewage treatment plants can’t detect or stop prions in municipal waste streams. Despite this slightly important technical detail, we are dumping tons of infectious sewage on crops, gardens, pastures, golf courses, playgrounds and open spaces in our forests every day. Wind, rain and other natural dynamics put the sewage right back into our air, food and water supplies.
Spreading sewage sludge, biosolids, and reclaimed wastewater anywhere is a risk. Dumping them directly into our food and water is reckless, incompetent and criminal. We’re dumping prions into our lifecycle by the trainloads daily. Every nation is guilty.
To be precise, people with Alzheimer’s or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have used every sewage system in the world for years, which means that these systems all are hopelessly contaminated with prions. The problem intensifies with the addition of new prions and the exponential growth of existing ones in the system. Sewage from hospitals, nursing homes, slaughterhouses, morgues, mortuaries, veterinarians and other high-risk places enters the same sewage system.
The condensed sludge from all of these places is then dumped on our farms and ranches by the truckload. Plastic packaging and other large items are often visible in this waste, which means that treatment is extremely minimal. If the Pope waved his hand over the sewage, it would likely receive better treatment than what we see today. Nothing stops a prion, but you would hope that billions of dollars of wastewater treatment would at least take out pill bottles, syringes, needles and used prophylactics.
Thanks to more and more people dying from TSEs, sewage systems are more contaminated with prions than ever. Wastewater treatment systems are now prion incubators and distributors. Sewage sludge, wastewater reuse, biosolids and other sewage byproducts are biohazards causing bioterror. Thanks to questionable policymakers and profiteers, you are eating and drinking from your neighbor’s toilet–and the toilets at the local nursing home and hospital. We might as well dump sewage out of windows again.
Thanks to more and more sewage mismanagement, we’re dumping more deadly prions on farms and ranches than ever. The wastewater industry and their consultants have convinced agricultural operations around the world that sewage and biosolids are safe, effective and profitable for all involved.
As it turns out, today’s sewage isn’t safe. It isn’t an effective fertilizer. The business is profitable for everyone concerned—until the sickness and disease sets in for the farmers, workers and the consumers. Until the land is condemned for being hopelessly contaminated—making everyone downstream sick.
Exposing crops and livestock to prions is a very bad idea. Plants absorb prions from the soil along with water and nutrient uptake, which makes the prions bioavailable and infectious to humans, wildlife and livestock via another pathway. We might as well inject prions into our veins.
In addition to uptake from the soil and water, plants also are contaminated through contact with biosolids. Rain can splash the death dust up on stalks and leaves, which contaminates them from the outside. People, livestock and wildlife are exposed to neurological disease just by consuming food grown in sewage sludge. The more consumed, the greater the risk. Utensils used in the harvesting, processing, cooking and eating of these crops also are permanently contaminated.
Meat and milk from livestock raised on pastures treated with sewage sludge are at risk of carrying prions. Livestock that graze on these dumping grounds can pull prions up directly from the soil as part of their daily grazing. Grains and grasses grown in sewage sludge and fed to livestock are a risk. Such exposure can turn these animals into incubators and distributors of prions.
People and predators that consume infected animals are at risk. Prions mutate and become more resistant and deadly as they move up the food chain through consumption. Prions from people are the most deadly and the most difficult to stop.
Prions are not the only ingredient in sewage that threatens food and water safety. Heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, flesh-eating bacteria and other contaminants await innocent bystanders.
Once sewage is dumped on crops and grazing land, the damage isn’t done. Rain, irrigation and wind proceed to spread the prions and other contaminants throughout our communities, watersheds and into our oceans. Dumping tons of sewage from millions of people on farms and ranches spreads the prion pathogen far and wide. It’s a vicious case of Pandora’s lunchbox. We can avoid some of the prion risk by eating foods that are organic. Fruits and vegetables grown in sewage sludge cannot be legally labeled as organic.
Profits, Prions and Peons
Thanks to prions, sewage management has become more of a nightmare than ever. Getting it out of our food and water will not be easy. Europe alone spends more than 2.2 billion euros every year to get sewage sludge out of the cities. Unfortunately, about 60 percent of the crap is dumped on agriculture and landscaping around homes and offices. Disposing of it safely would cost billions more.
Finland and Sweden are top offenders in Europe regarding sewage dumped inappropriately. People there live and play near the Baltic Sea, which is one of the most polluted bodies of water on the planet. Sewage mismanagement generates most of that pollution. Sewage is polluting food and water supplies. As a result, Finland has the highest rate of Alzheimer’s deaths in the world. Sweden is third.
The United States produces more than eight million tons of dried sewage sludge every year. About half of it is dumped on crops, yards, parks, golf courses and beyond. The U.S. also has the fourth-highest death rate from Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Alzheimer’s rates in Washington State are off the charts. Like Finland, it has a long history of sewage mismanagement. It dumps sewage on crops, near rivers and upstream in forests. It drains back into the rivers, lakes, coves and bays where so many people live, play, eat and drink. Public servants are making questionable decisions regarding public health on many levels. Innocent people and animals are paying the price.
Wisconsin is another interesting case study. Almost every county in Wisconsin has helped dispose of sewage sludge. Now, the state’s deer herd is being decimated by chronic wasting disease–a prion disease. The epidemic is being mismanaged on many levels. Prion-laced sewage and sick deer pose a serious threat to Wisconsin’s multi-billion dollar dairy herd. Of course, people are exposed, too.
California produces a significant amount of the U.S. food supply. Los Angeles, for example, ships a huge amount of its sewage sludge where crops abound in Kerns County. Arizona also is a favorite dumping ground for California’s largest cities. Cropland near Yuma is a popular target. Open space in the Phoenix metro area also has been targeted with California’s latest export.
Thanks to sewage from California, Arizona also has one of the highest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. Windstorms in the desert carry much more than sand and dust. Sewage sludge particles are part of every dust cloud that sweeps over Phoenix, Tucson and beyond. Then homeowners and their landscapers take turns blowing it back and forth across the street with dust blowers. As a result, the region is plagued by a mystery respiratory illness called valley fever. It’s wicked. The virus never leaves your body.
In India, 80 percent of surface water is contaminated and 80 percent of that contamination is sewage. Broken water pipes and flooding allow fecal sludge to mix with potable water. The effects of this contamination are immediately felt with the onset of the monsoons. When rains break out, so do reports of water-borne diseases like diarrhea and cholera.
India’s Central Pollution Control Board estimates that major cities and towns generate more than 38 billion liters of sewage every day, of which only 30 percent is collected and channeled away. Less than 20 percent of this sewage is treated due to limited capacity. The rest is emptied into streets, rivers, lakes and the ocean. Ironically, Hinduism is the religion of water.
Canadians produce more than 660,000 metric tons of biosolids each year. Saskatchewan is a leader in biosolids disposal. It’s also ground zero in the war against chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose.
These are just a few examples of sewage mismanagement and the threat to man and beast. It’s happening somewhere near you. Sewage mismanagement in agriculture is a direct assault on the landowners, investors, workers, livestock, neighbors downstream and downwind and consumers. Crops, poultry, dairy, meat and water all are vulnerable to the prion threat.
Canaries In A Coal Mine
Despite the unstoppable risk that sewage and prions represent to agriculture, testing for mad cow disease is very weak in most countries. In fact, the USDA reduced BSE testing in 2003 after finding the third mad cow. Out of about 35 million animals slaughtered annually, only 35,000 are tested for the deadly disease. Despite reduced testing, 22 cases have been confirmed in the U.S., so far. Another 20 cases have been confirmed in Canada. Japan, by contrast, tests every cow killed for consumption. Mad cow disease is not an isolated event. It’s impossible to contain. It’s just the tip of an iceberg.
The prion risk in dairy cattle is another issue. Most, if not all cases of mad cow disease in the U.S. and other countries have been dairy cattle, so such research seems logical. Beef cattle rarely live long enough to exhibit symptoms of mad cow disease. Dairy cattle often live much longer, which increases their exposure to prions and it gives them more time to become visibly sick. It also gives them more time and opportunity to contribute milk to the food supply.
Prions have been found in the milk of mammals, but no one has been allowed to test for prions in the milk of cattle. Given the enormous influence of the dairy industry, research on dairy milk, cheese and prions will probably never happen. Prion behavior observed in other species confirms the risk.
At the beginning of 1985, the world had never heard of mad cow disease. Public concern quickly gained momentum once the epidemic was exposed. At first, the U.K. government and industry insiders tried to cover up the threat. Politicians and regulators were more than willing to cast fate to the wind regarding public health.
The U.K. killed almost 200,000 cattle in an attempt to eradicate the disease. Thousands of carcasses were burned and others were buried in pits. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to eradicate prion disease because of the perpetual environmental pathways. Cases continue to arise, but testing has been rendered ineffective at best. Ireland just confirmed a new case of the disease in June 2015. Ireland was ground zero during the first mad cow crisis 30 years ago.
In the past, most infected cattle got the disease from eating feed made from the ground up blood, fat and bones of dead cattle. Once they fed a mad cow back to these vegetarian herds, the contagion spread like wildfire. Diet is a proven source of exposure to prion disease. Food and water contaminated by sewage may have contributed to that initial outbreak in 1985.
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how many infected cattle were slaughtered and consumed by innocent families. That’s one of the weaknesses of the global food production systems. That’s one of the reasons that it’s vital to keep prions out of agriculture.
Scientific Research Ignored
Studies confirm that people and animals dying of prion disease contaminate the environment around them with prions. Claudio Soto, PhD, professor of neurology at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, and his colleagues recently found human prions in urine. Soto also confirmed that plants uptake prions and are infectious and deadly to those who consume such plants. Therefore, humans, wildlife and livestock are vulnerable to prion disease via plants grown on land treated with sewage sludge and reclaimed sewage water.
Prion researcher Dr. Joel Pedersen, from the University of Wisconsin, found that prions become 680 times more infectious in certain soils. Pedersen also found that sewage treatment does not inactivate prions. Therefore, prions are lethal, mutating, migrating and multiplying everywhere sewage is dumped.
“Our results suggest that if prions enter municipal wastewater treatment systems, most of the agent would bond to sludge, survive anaerobic digestion, and be present in treated biosolids,” Pedersen said. “Land application of biosolids containing prions represents a route for their unintentional introduction into the environment. Our results emphasize the importance of keeping prions out of municipal wastewater treatment systems. Prions could end up in sewage treatment plants via slaughterhouses, hospitals, dental offices and mortuaries just to name a few of the pathways. The disposal of sludge represents the greatest risk of spreading prion contamination in the environment. Plus, we know that sewage sludge pathogens, pharmaceutical residue and chemical pollutants are taken up by plants and vegetables.”
Over the past 30 years, there has been a great deal of research to better understand the fate of toxins and pathogens in biosolids when applied to crops and grazing land. Much of that research is taking place today in an open laboratory, on innocent citizens in thousands of communities around the world. Unfortunately, they aren’t willing participants.
The Sludge Rule
In the United States, the EPA began regulating sewage under the 1972 Federal Water Pollution Control Act to prevent biosolids from contaminating waterways. In 1977, Congress asked EPA to:
Identify alternatives for biosolids use and disposal;
Specify what factors must be accounted for in determining the methods and practices applicable to each of these identified uses; and
Identify concentrations of pollutants that would interfere with each use.
In 1978, the EPA limited concentrations of cadmium, PCBs and pathogens. In 1987, Congress told EPA to identify possible toxins in biosolids, including limits necessary to protect public health and environment. Congress asked the EPA to develop regulations for biosolids.
The Standards for the Use and Disposal of Sewage Sludge, Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40, Part 503 was promulgated in 1993. It’s known as the sludge rule. It’s the environmental equivalent of Catch-22.
The sludge rule gives EPA the right to push sludge-control authority to each state, with minimal guidance. Thanks to the pro-industry sludge rule, sewage sludge is mismanaged in every state, while contributing to water contamination and other reckless public health exposures across the nation. Instead of helping the nation speak with one voice and the voice of reason, EPA created a new episode of Keystone Cops.
Pardon my French, but people around the world have been told to eat shit and die. Literally.
According to the U.S. EPA, “Prions are extremely resistant to inactivation by ultraviolet light, irradiation, boiling, dry heat, formaline, freezing, drying and changes in pH. Methods for inactivating prions in infected tissues or wastes include incineration at very high temperatures and alkaline hydrolysis.” They didn’t mention hydrogen peroxide, which is how some toilet-to-tap programs hope to kill deadly prions.
The EPA National Water Research Compendium 2009-2014 lists prions eight times as an emerging contaminant of concern in sewage sludge (biosolids), water and manure.
Even the EPA’s own internal audit found that the agency is dropping the ball on sewage regulation and management. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General (OIG) sewage regulations are weak, outdated and not enforced. In September 2014, the OIG offered the following summary of its findings:
“Hazardous waste has properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health and the environment. Hazardous wastes are regulated by the EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA Subtitle C regulations address the generation, transportation, and treatment, storage, or disposal of hazardous wastes.
However, under the RCRA domestic sewage exclusion, hazardous wastes discharged to sewage treatment plants are not regulated by RCRA once they enter the sewer. Rather, they are regulated under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA was passed in 1972 to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological t System (NPDES) program represents one of the key components established to accomplish the goals of the CWA.
This program requires that direct dischargers to surface waters such as streams, lakes, and oceans obtain an NPDES4 permit A sewage treatment plant is generally designed to treat typical household waste, biodegradable commercial waste, and biodegradable industrial waste. However, all users may also discharge toxic or non-conventional pollutants that the sewage treatment plant is neither designed for nor able to remove. To ensure the goals of the CWA are met, industrial and commercial users are required to comply with pretreatment standards.
EPA guidance defines pretreatment as the elimination of pollutants, or the alteration of the nature of pollutant properties in wastewater before or in lieu of discharging, or otherwise introducing, such that, as part of their implementation of the industrial pretreatment program, municipal officials should ensure that industrial users control and properly manage their hazardous waste. This guidance further states that hazardous wastes discharged to sewers are “subject to the CWA, must be reported to the POTW, and should meet all applicable categorical and local discharge permits.”
Management controls put in place by the EPA to regulate and control hazardous chemical discharges from sewage treatment plants to water resources have limited effectiveness. The EPA regulates hazardous chemical discharges to and from sewage treatment plants, but these regulations are not effective in controlling the discharge of hundreds of hazardous chemicals to surface waters such as lakes and streams.
Sewage treatment plant staff do not monitor for hazardous chemicals discharged by industrial users. This is due to a general regulatory focus on the priority pollutants list that has not been updated since 1981, limited monitoring requirements, limited coordination between EPA offices, a lack of tracking hazardous waste notifications required for submittal by industrial users, or a lack of knowledge of discharges reported by industrial users under the Toxics Release Inventory. Except for EPA Region 9, sewage treatment plant permits generally include very few monitoring requirements or effluent limits, which can limit enforcement actions. The EPA developed whole effluent toxicity test results as a mechanism to identify toxic chemicals such as hazardous discharges to sewage treatment plants. However, these are not required for all permits, and are not tracked by the EPA to verify that sewage treatment plants are reporting results as required. Moreover, exceedances of chemical limits in permits and toxicity tests do not trigger notification to enforcement programs. Consequently, the EPA may not be aware of chemical discharge or toxicity exceedances that should be addressed to minimize potentially harmful contamination of water resources.”
Today, Americans generate about 182 gallons of wastewater per person per day. Approximately 7.1 million tons of sewage sludge are generated each year from the treatment process at the more than 16,000 municipal wastewater treatment facilities across the country. Thanks to the EPA’s infamous sludge rule, approximately 55 percent of the sludge is dumped on land as fertilizer and soil amendment. With this type of misguided leadership, the U.S. might soon become the world’s leader in neurological disease.
Fortunately, citizens are rising up to defend themselves. The Town Board in Wheatfield, New York, for example unanimously voted in July 2014 to ban any application of sewage sludge and other similar materials from the treatment of municipal wastewater to any land in town. The law reasons that the potential contamination of groundwater, surface water, and soil, as well as the potential for air pollution, poses an unreasonable risk to town residents, public health, and the environment.
Residents of the Nicola Valley in British Columbia are protesting the dumping of sewage sludge on their lands now. It came as quite a shock when the First Nations of the Nicola Valley discovered that big-city sewer sludge had been dumped in their traditional, ancestral lands for more than a decade. For the past eight months or so, the five bands from the valley, together with the community group calling itself Friends of the Nicola Valley, have worked to stop further importing of biosolids into the Nicola region. According to Chief Aaron Sam, there was no consultation from either the sludge industry or the government about this practice.
The five First Nations chiefs of the Nicola Valley have taken their fight to the B.C. legislature. The group is calling on the government to stop importing sewage sludge from the Lower Mainland and the Okanagan and dumping them on their land.
“When it comes to biosolids, the government ignores and the government completely disregards, our rights protected by the constitution,” said Chief Aaron Sam.
Nicola Valley residents have maintained a blockade to prevent trucks from transporting more sewage sludge in from Vancouver and dumping it on their land. The facts are on their side. Independent testing shows biosolids do contaminate Nicola Valley lands and waters. The testing facilitated by the David Suzuki Foundation shows that samples of biosolids taken from the Nicola Valley contained alarmingly high amounts of dangerous toxins, including uranium, lead and mercury.
“The independent tests confirm that biosolids must not be applied to land,” said Sam. “Biosolids contaminate our lands and waters, and it has serious potential negative effects on fish, animals and plants, First Nations people are reliant on the land for food and medicines. Biosolids put the health of our community members at risk. We can no longer sit back while the Government of British Columbia ignores our constitutionally protected rights to our title and rights.”
In 2009, the U.S. EPA released the results from its Targeting National Sewage Sludge Survey (TNSSS), which measures chemical concentrations in land-based biosolid application areas. The results are striking. Out of 84 samples:
27 metals are found in virtually every sample with antimony found in no less than 72 samples;
Of six semi-volatile organics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), four are found in 72 samples, one is found in 63 samples and one found in 39 samples;
Of 72 pharmaceuticals, three (i.e. ciprofloxacin, diphenhydramine, and triclocarban) are found in all 84 samples, nine are found in at least 80 samples;
Of 25 steroids and hormones, three steroids are found in 84 samples and six are found in 80 samples; and,
All flame retardants, except one, are found in nearly every sample.
Over the past 30 years, a significant body of research has been compiled on the organic chemical contaminants in land applied biosolids that support these findings. While the focus has ranged from persistent organic pollutants, such as chlorinated dioxins/furans, to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, organochlorine pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, and pharmaceutical contaminants, only dioxins have been assessed by EPA. While they took no action based on the assessment, they determined that risks were below the levels of action.
Many of the crops grown in biosolids have higher concentrations of heavy metals. The regulatory pitfalls are outlined by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). This group reports that there are major data gaps in the science underlying current rules, as well as a lack of epidemiologic studies on exposed populations, and inadequate programs to ensure compliance with biosolid regulations.
Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA is required to review existing biosolid regulations every two years in order to identify pollutants that need to be regulated. However, EPA has only researched a fraction of the chemicals that are known to exist in sludge and, of those researched, only some have risk assessments. NRC concludes that EPA’s biosolids risk-assessment and regulatory process is cumbersome and slow, with large information gaps on complex pathogenic interactions, and ignoring important secondary transmission pathways.
For now, organic certification is the safest haven from biosolids for consumers. Farms that are USDA organic certified are prohibited from applying biosolids under the National Organic Standards Rule. When the proposed Rule first came out in 1997, EPA feared that it would keep people from using biosolids as a fertilizer. It pressed the USDA to exempt biosolids from the regulation. In 1998, USDA caved in and released proposed organic standards that would allow bioengineered crops, irradiation, and sewage sludge in organic production. Thanks to public outrage, USDA withdrew its attempt to bend the rule.
We know that biosolids have a complex array of biological pathogens, chemical contaminants, pharmaceuticals, hormones/steroids, and emerging contaminants that are not completely eliminated by waste water treatment plants. The land application of biosolids should be abandoned immediately, since the current regulatory restrictions and biosolid treatment programs allow for ongoing contamination of the environment, which threatens human health.