Wastewater Reclamation Recycles Brain Diseases

Deadly Disease Recycled By Wastewater Treatment Process

Neurodegenerative diseases are the fastest-growing causes of death around the world. The mismanagement of infectious waste is contributing to the prion disease epidemic in mammals, including humans.

Dr. Stanley Prusiner earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for his pioneering research on deadly prions—an infectious form of protein that connects a deadly spectrum disease called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” TSEs include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, moose and reindeer. TSE is also killing dolphins, whales and many other species of mammals. It’s the environmental equivalent of Pandora’s Box.

President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the importance of his work. Unfortunately, this groundbreaking research is being ignored. This negligence is fueling a public health disaster around the world, as critical prion pathways are being ignored and mismanaged. Even the autism epidemic is related to these reckless policies.

transmissible spongiform encephalopathy

In June 2012, Prusiner confirmed that Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and even ALS are prion diseases similar, if not identical, to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The primary difference being which part of the brain the disease attacks first. The other variable is that there are now an unknown number of prion mutations.

“There is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s,” 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.

Alzheimer's disease and wastewater reclamation

People with prion disease, including Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have prions in their bodily fluids, including their urine, feces, blood, saliva and mucus. Claudio Soto, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the George and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Brain Related Illnesses at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, and his colleagues confirmed that prions are in the urine of those who have contracted prion disease–even before they exhibit clinical symptoms.

Claudio Soto prion research

The study has been published in the August 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The unstoppable pathogen is flushed down thousands of toilets and drains every day. If prions are unstoppable in the sterile confines of an operating room, how are they stopping prions in the high-volume, low-tech world of wastewater treatment?

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 sewage sludge, survive anaerobic digestion, and be present in treated biosolids,” Pedersen said.

prion research sewage sludge

“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.”

Mutations of these deadly prions also are the common denominator between human forms of the disease, mad cow disease in livestock and chronic wasting disease in wildlife. Several other species of mammals, including sea mammals, also are victims of the unstoppable epidemic. Much of the carnage is being swept under the rug as the problem escalates.

mad cow disease

Although there are many causes contributing to prion disease, many people and animals are contracting it from environmental exposure (food, water and soil) and then contaminating the environment even more with their own bodily fluids. Victims of prion disease are walking time bombs. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) is the most deadly form of prion disease in humans. Without dispute, it is a very contagious disease that kills rapidly. There is no cure for CJD and other forms of prion disease.

Alzheimer’s and CJD are often indistinguishable to neurologists and general practitioners. Misdiagnoses are common. It appears that CJD is caused by a more aggressive mutation of prion than Alzheimer’s, but a deadly prion is a deadly prion. There is no reason to believe that some prions behave differently than others in disease transmission and progression. There should be no difference in disease management.

Unfortunately, as more people contract these brain diseases, the more deadly wastewater streams become. Meanwhile, wastewater reuse is surging around the world in response to growing populations and dwindling water resources. Other by-products from the wastewater stream known as biosolids (sewage sludge) also are being used to fertilize crops, pastures for livestock, golf courses, playgrounds and gardens. Millions of people, including your family, are in harm’s way because wastewater treatment plants can’t stop prions.

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.

wastewater treatment and disease

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed that prions are in sewage and that there has been no way to detect them or stop them. As such, the EPA has never issued guidance on prion management within wastewater treatment plants. Unfortunately, the EPA’s risk assessment on sewage sludge and biosolids were prepared before the world of science knew about prions. The agency continues to cling to it’s antiquated sludge rule crafted back in the dark ages. It does, however, consider prions a “contaminant of emerging concern.” Meanwhile, it’s promoting a public health disaster.

“Since it’s unlikely that the sewage treatment process can effectively deactivate prions, adopting measures to prevent the entry of prions into the sewer system is advisable,” said the Toronto Department of Health, November 2004.

Regulators and industry are playing dumb as the body count keeps rising. It’s a deadly circle enabled by an outdated risk assessment. Modern science is being ignored.

biosolids and application fertilizer

The largest prion pathway in the world is wastewater (infectious waste) from homes, hospitals, nursing homes, slaughterhouses, dental offices and other high-risk sources. The problem is that prions are in all bodily fluids and cell tissue of millions of victims who often go undiagnosed. Their mucus, saliva, feces, and urine are flushed down millions of toilets and rinsed down sinks every day. Once inside the wastewater system, prions proceed to migrate, mutate and multiply. Reckless risk assessments enable wastewater treatment plants to spread these deadly agents far and wide. Deadly prions are building up and incubating in sewage treatment plants and then dumped openly on land as biosolids. They are swept into the air by the wind. Now, water contaminated by prions is migrating into our rivers, lakes and oceans. It’s being injected into groundwater and it’s being recycled as tap water.

I used to support wastewater reclamation and reuse projects until I realized that the risk assessments were prepared decades ago—before Dr. Prusiner characterized prions and prion disease. These microscopic protein particles have converted sewage and its by-products a public health disaster.

municipal wastewater treatment and disease

Read The Full Story About The Risks Associated With Wastewater Reclamation and Biosolids

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Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Sewage mismanagement is one of our top issues. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform gary@crossbow1.com.

About Gary Chandler

Gary R. Chandler is a sustainability author and strategist. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler
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