Wastewater Reclamation A Public Health Disaster
San Diego City Council approved plans to reclaim and reuse wastewater as drinking water. Thanks to flawed risk assessments, it will be another public health disaster. Millions more people will now be exposed to a highly contagious pathogen called a prion. The deadly form of protein causes neurodegenerative disease in mammals, including Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The unstoppable pathogen is flushed down thousands of toilets and drains every day.
A coalition of community leaders, business groups and environmental organizations rammed the fatal plan down citizens’ throats as a way of preserving property values in the face of a deepening drought. Citizens never had a chance to vote on the proposal. Only the city council voted on the project.
Environmental groups were duped to say that the Pure Water project will mean less sewage dumped into the ocean and less reliance on desalination of that same ocean water. Thanks to the slick PR campaign, taxpayers will cough up $3.2 billion for the right to choke down their own sewage and an unstoppable pathogen called prion.
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, also known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). He claims that all TSEs are caused by prions. 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 (PREE-on) disease. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is at the extreme end of the spectrum. Prusiner’s science is being ignored and we are facing a public health disaster because of the negligence.
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. 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?
Pure Water San Diego, for example, is expected to provide more than a third of the city’s potable water by 2035. The wastewater treatment system starts with micro-filtration to take out the floaters–the big stuff in sewage (feces, tampons, etc.). The water then goes through reverse-osmosis to screen out organic material, salts and other solids. The last step is a combination of ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide to kill some of the pathogens found in sewage. Supposedly, a splash of UV light and hydrogen peroxide will kill everything that could kill you. Anything that can’t be killed with UV light or hydrogen peroxide is destined for your home.
As any surgeon in the world can tell you, UV light and hydrogen peroxide can kill several things if properly exposed, but they can’t kill millions of prions from thousands of people who have prion disease. There is not any known treatment in the world that is 100 percent effective against prions in any environment, especially the high-volume, low-tech world of wastewater treatment. Prions are more likely to migrate, mutate and multiply than be neutralized (they aren’t a virus or bacteria, so they can’t be killed). Once exposed to deadly prions, the waterways will be contaminated forever.
In Los Angeles, the Orange County water reclamation program was featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Reporter Lesley Stahl bravely drank a sample of treated sewage water during the story. As she explained, San Diego won’t be the first to drink its own sewage. A number of other cities around the world have already sold their souls down the river based on half-truths and misinformation. Orange County, for example, recycles 70 million gallons a day to potable. It’s expanding capacity to 100 million gallons per day. Singapore is one of the most high-profile examples in the world. It reuses 380 million gallons per day.
The Problem With Prions
A recent study confirms that people and animals dying of prion disease are contaminating the environment around them with prions found in their bodily fluids. 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 recently found prions in urine. The study has been published in the August 7 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Soto also confirmed that plants absorb prions and are infectious and deadly to those who consume the infected plants. Therefore, humans, wildlife and livestock are vulnerable to prion disease via plants grown on land treated with sewage sludge and reclaimed sewage water. Studies performed by Ruth Gabizon in 2001 and Reichl in 2002 also found prions in the urine of victims. These studies also detected prions in bodily fluids. Despite that detail, Soto’s findings can help focus global attention on the exploding prion problem.
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.
“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.”
A new study published in the journal Nature renews concern about the transmissibility of Alzheimer’s disease between people via bodily fluids. A second study by the same scientist in early 2016 adds to the stack of evidence.
“There has been a resurgence of this sort of thinking, because 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).”
Prions in urine and other bodily fluids underscores the environmental nightmare associated with Alzheimer’s, Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD), Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and prion diseases among livestock and wildlife. Although there are many causes for 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.
If a single person with prion disease discharges bodily fluids or feces into a public sewer system, that sewage system is permanently infected and the amount of contamination will multiply and intensify daily. Everything discharged from that sewage system—reclaimed wastewater and biosolids—can spread the contamination even further. Once a prion reaches the soil, that soil is permanently contaminated and the entire watershed below that point is at risk forever. If your food and water is generated in that watershed, you have a higher risk of contracting prion disease.
With the help of weather, prions can migrate through wind and water. Rain and snow can rinse them into surface water, groundwater, streams, ponds, lakes, and oceans. Wildlife, livestock and humans can ingest prions from soil, water and food. Containment is a priority to protect public health.
Because of these factors and others, we have an epidemic of prion disease around the world right now. The epidemic is worse in some regions of the world than others. For example, the death rate for Alzheimer’s disease is higher in Finland than any other country in the world. Iceland and the United States are runners up. In fact, the death rate for Alzheimer’s is higher in North Dakota, South Dakota Washington state than any other known region in the world. These vast discrepancies can only be explained by environmental factors, including food, water and air pathways. Sewage disposal that contaminates local food and water supplies is likely part of the problem.
Alzheimer’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are indistinguishable. They are both on the prion disease spectrum. Medical professionals cannot tell the difference and it’s commonly known in the medical industry that the diagnoses are only a guess and that misdiagnoses are common. It appears that CJD is caused by a more aggressive mutation of prion than Alzheimer’s. When it comes to public health, a deadly prion is a deadly prion.
The urine and sewage connection helps explain why the global epidemic is exploding. More than 50 million people around the world are known to have these neurodegenerative diseases today. Millions more have the disease, but don’t know it, yet. In addition to these people, millions of infected people around the world have used our sewage systems over the past century. Millions more are using them today. It’s impossible to neutralize or stop prions in even the most sterile environments, including hospitals. It’s ludicrous to think that treated sewage water or biosolids are prion-free. Especially since prions from people are much more infectious than those found in other species (prions become more aggressive as they work their way up the food chain).
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, its risk assessments for wastewater reclamation and sewage management were prepared before the world of science knew about deadly prions. It does, however, consider prions a contaminant of “emerging concern.”
The EPA can’t plead ignorance to the dangers of prions in biosolids and reclaimed wastewater. Sewage dumped at sea must be reconsidered. Prions should be classified as a select agent again by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Center for Disease Control. Similar measures should be enacted around the world immediately. Failure to act responsibly is suicide.
Unfortunately, every sewage system in the world has served people with Alzheimer’s disease and CJD. As such, prions have been incubating, multiplying and migrating out of these systems for many years. The problem is intensifying within and beyond these sewage systems every day.
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.
“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.
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.
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