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Risk Assessments Ignore Prion Contamination

The United States produces about 33 billion gallons of wastewater every day. Meanwhile, agriculture uses about 128 billion gallons of water every day. The government hopes to close the gap with municipal wastewater reuse and by recapturing and reusing about 45 billion GPD of water that runs off cropland.

Within the next 10 years, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect to face freshwater shortages in their states. In certain situations, water conservation and efficiency measures may not be enough to meet anticipated increases in demand. Water managers and users are increasingly evaluating reuse options to help diversify and extend their supplies.

Safe and reliable water supplies for human consumption, agriculture, business, industry, recreation, and healthy ecosystems are critical to our nation’s communities and economy. Due to various pressures, 80 percent of U.S. states anticipate water shortages in some parts of their states in the next decade. Communities, agriculture, and businesses are looking to diversify their supply portfolios to meet current and future needs. Water reuse (also commonly known as water recycling or water reclamation) represents a major opportunity to assure the quality of and supplement existing water supplies from industrial process water, agricultural return flows, municipal wastewater, oil and gas produced water, and storm water collection.

Water scarcity is the major concern that impacts the global economy and the livelihood of mankind.

Climate change, rapid population growth, freshwater pollution, and depletion are among the factors that aggravate the situation. Although not yet exhaustively exploited, reclamation and reuse of wastewater are considered as potential mechanisms to mitigate the challenge. In relation to reclamation, conventional wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove organic matter, total solids, and nutrients but fail to remove the emerging micro-pollutants.

Water reuse is not without significant challenges, particularly related to protection of public health, the environment, and protection of end use quality and needs (e.g., food safety, groundwater/aquifer protection). Inset 6 summarizes examples of these challenges and barriers to water reuse. Recycled water may not be an optimal source in all situations and local decision makers are encouraged to assess the advantages and disadvantages of reuse for their communities.

A decentralized wastewater treatment system is another potential and emerging approach for sustainable water reuse at the point of the wastewater generation. However, its application is not exclusively independent of the centralized system; rather the integration of the two systems is recommendable to depend on the local situations. To remove micro-pollutants, integrating advanced wastewater technologies should be considered as well as advanced analytical instruments for proper monitoring. Although the reuse of reclaimed water in crop irrigation is a well-established practice, it lacks uniformity across the globe.

Furthermore, if not properly monitored, the reuse of reclaimed water also has adverse effects on the soil properties and public health. Therefore, the aim of this work is to review the impacts of global freshwater scarcity, water resources management and monitoring practice, state-of-the-art wastewater treatment technologies and experience of reusing reclaimed water, particularly in agricultural irrigation.

Over the past several decades, agriculture, industry, and communities have demonstrated the value of reusing water, largely in response to various forms of water crises such as drought or source water contamination. Proponents of water reuse can tout the increased water security, sustainability, and resilience. Some of these reuse projects include:

  • Israel reuses approximately 87 percent of its treated wastewater;
  • Singapore uses reclaimed water to meet 30 percent of its total water demand;
  • Orange County, California recycles about 100 million gallons of treated sewer water every day and transforms it into drinking water that exceeds all state and federal drinking water standards (standards that are flawed). The City Of San Diego is investing in a similar plan;
  • The Eastern Municipal Water District (EMWD) in southern California is converting wastewater into water that can be reused (currently 35 percent of the EMWD’s water supply portfolio), regularly repurposing and selling 100 percent of its recycled water for use in agricultural, irrigation, landscaping, and industrial applications. The EMWD;
  • uses treatment facilities and storage ponds to ensure year-round water availability, drought-proofing, and setting up the community for future urban development. The EMWD is also exploring future uses of recycled water, including recharging local groundwater supplies that could then be extracted for drinking water;
  • The Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority in Virginia treats wastewater for recharge to the Occoquan Reservoir. Currently about 50 MGD of treated wastewater is recycled, which, depending on hydrologic conditions, is 10 to 90 percent of the drinking water reservoir inflow;
  • The F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center in Gwinnett County, Georgia, treats up to 60 MGD of wastewater effluent for surface water recharge to Lake Lanier, while also recovering phosphorus and methane gas;
  • Scottsdale Water Campus (AZ) reuses up to 1.7 billion gallons of treated wastewater annually through aquifer recharge;
  • Gillette Stadium (MA), which serves 69,000 people on game day, performs onsite reuse of wastewater for toilet flushing and groundwater recharge;
  • The Carrabassett Valley Sanitary District (ME) provides treated wastewater to Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Resort to generate snow. Snow Bowl in Flagstaff, (AZ) also makes snow from reclaimed wastewater;
  • The Denver Zoo in Colorado, in partnership with Denver Water, has reduced its water consumption by 42 percent, using reclaimed water for irrigation, enclosure washdown, and animal swimming pools. Overall, 35 percent of the zoo’s water comes from Denver Water’s Recycling Plant;
  • The Tres Rios Environmental Restoration Project in Arizona pumps treated wastewater effluent through 700 acres of Salt River wetlands, creating wildlife habitat and reducing flood risk; and
  • Microsoft teamed with the City of Quincy (WA) to build a water treatment plant, which provides reclaimed water for cooling at data centers and injection into the local aquifer.

The Water Security Grand Challenge is a White House initiated, DOE led framework to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water. One goal is to double resource recovery from municipal wastewater by 2030. Unfortunately, that lofty vision is based on incomplete risk assessments, which makes the whole concept illegal if not criminal.

The development of the draft Action Plan was guided by the following key principles:

• Protect public health. The paramount need to protect public health, given the array of chemical and pathogenic contaminants that may exist in sources of water for potential reuse applications. Protection of public health is central to virtually all the potential uses.

• Protect the environment and ecosystems. Recognize water reuse can have both positive (e.g., ecosystem restoration) and negative (e.g., diminished in-stream flows) impacts on aquatic ecosystems.

If these guiding principles are sincere, it’s even more justification to slow down and review the risk assessments and the epidemiology. These practices are contributing to a public health disaster now.

The Problem With Prions

Neurodegenerative disease has been surging around the world for the past 30 years. It’s the fastest-growing cause of death and it will soon be the leading cause of death. Scientists have finally confirmed that Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of neurodegenerative disease are forms of prion disease, which means that they are highly infectious.

Prions (PREE-ons) are a deadly and unstoppable form of protein that migrates, mutates, multiplies and kills with unparalleled efficiency. Prions cause fatal neurodegenerative disease in humans and other mammals by converting the cellular version of prion protein into a toxic form that erodes the brain and body. Prion disease often is described as a wasting disease that causes a loss of body mass and brain mass.

Dr. Stanley Prusiner, an American neuroscientist from the University of California at San Francisco, earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for discovering and characterizing prions and prion disease. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the importance of his research. Important reforms to policies to protect public health, however, have been elusive.

Prion disease also is known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” Prusiner claims that all forms of TSE are caused by infectious prions.

Prions + Pathways = Victims

Prion pathways threaten each and every person on the planet. The greatest prion pathway in the world is human sewage. It’s contaminating food and water supplies with deadly prions now. It’s been going on for years, but it’s worse than ever now. In other mammals, it’s called different things, but prion disease has been found in camels, dolphins, elephants, mink, cats and many other species. The suggestion of a reliable species barrier against thousands, if not millions, of mutations is ludicrous.

Prion disease causes memory loss, impaired coordination, abnormal movements and overall wasting of the mind and body. Victims become prion incubators and distributors. So do wastewater treatment plants.

Claudio Soto, PhD, professor of neurology at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, and his colleagues confirmed the presence of prions in urine. Prions infect the entire body and all bodily fluids of its victims, including blood, mucus and saliva. Caregivers for anyone with neurodegenerative disease beware.

“Our findings open the possibility that some of the sporadic Alzheimer’s disease cases may arise from an infectious process, which occurs with other neurological diseases such as mad cow disease and its human form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” said Claudio Soto, Ph.D., professor of neurology at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, part of UT Health. “The underlying mechanism of Alzheimer’s disease is very similar to the prion diseases. It involves a normal protein that becomes misshapen and is able to spread by transforming good proteins to bad ones. The bad proteins accumulate in the brain, forming plaque deposits (and inflammation), which kill neuron cells in Alzheimer’s disease.”

Soto also confirmed that plants uptake prions from the soil and water. The plants become fatally infectious to those who consume them. Even wildlife and sea mammals are contracting brain disease from people because of the dumping of infectious waste on farms, ranches and forests. Humans, wildlife and livestock are vulnerable to prion disease via crops and plants grown on land treated with infectious waste (sewage sludge, biosolids and reclaimed wastewater).

In humans, the prion spectrum includes Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)–the most aggressive version. The difference between these diseases is very slight and often indistinguishable to neurologists. Millions of people have CJD, which is clearly an aggressive prion disease. CJD has not been declared a reportable disease across most nations.

Prions are such a formidable threat that the U.S. government enacted the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, which included a provision to halt research on prions in all but two laboratories. The U.S. government initially classified prions as select agents that pose an extreme risk to food, water and health systems. Today, governments don’t regulate prions at all.

As such, millions of caregivers are being misinformed, misguided and exposed to an aggressive prion disease. So are friends and family. Unfortunately, Prusiner’s science is being ignored and we all are facing a public health disaster because of the negligence and reckless disregard for public health. In addition to the other prion pathways in the world, wastewater treatment plants have become weapons of mass destruction.

Wastewater treatment plants are collecting points for prions from infected humans. The sewage treatment process can’t stop prions from migrating, mutating and multiplying before being discharged into the environment where they can kill again. Wastewater treatment plants are spreading infectious waste far and wide because they are incapable of stopping prions. As such, 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.

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 (biosolids) was prepared before the world of science knew about prions. The agency continues to cling to its antiquated sludge rule crafted back in the dark ages. It does, however, consider prions an “emerging contaminant of concern.” Meanwhile, its outdated risk assessments are promoting a public health disaster. The neurotoxins found in sewage, including heavy metals, also are contributing to the global spike in autism, which follows the same timing and trajectory as the spike in neurodegenerative diseases.

biosolids and prion disease

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

Once unleashed on the environment, prions remain infectious. They migrate, mutate and multiply as they infect crops, water supplies, wildlife, livestock, sea mammals and humans. According to prion researcher Joel Pedersen at the University of Wisconsin, prions in soil become up to 680 times more infectious. From there, they migrate, mutate and multiply. It’s a real world version of Pandora’s Lunchbox.

“Our results suggest that if prions enter municipal wastewater treatment systems, most prions 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 introduction into the environment. I emphasize the importance of keeping prions out of municipal wastewater treatment systems.”

Pedersen also found that sewage treatment does not inactivate prions. Therefore, prions are lethal, mutating, migrating and multiplying everywhere sewage (biosolids) is dumped.

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 pathogens, pharmaceutical residue and chemical pollutants found in sewage sludge are taken up by plants and vegetables.”

Thanks to the mismanagement of infectious waste, including sewage, the animal world is contracting prion disease from humans. They also are passing it among themselves via their own bodily fluids. When it comes to prion disease, species barriers are a myth.

Unfortunately, prions linger in the environment, homes, hospitals, nursing homes, dental offices and beyond infinitely. Prions defy all attempts at sterilization and inactivation. If they can’t stop prions in the friendly and sterile confines of an operating room, they can’t stop them in the wastewater treatment plant.

The risk assessments prepared by the U.S. EPA for wastewater treatment and sewage sludge are flawed and current practices of recycling this infectious waste are fueling a public health disaster. The groundbreaking disclosure is called “EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment.”

The report starts out by admitting that “The EPA’s controls over the land application of biosolids were incomplete or had weaknesses and may not fully protect human health and the environment. The EPA consistently monitored biosolids for nine regulated pollutants. However, it lacked the data or risk assessment tools needed to make a determination on the safety of 352 pollutants found in biosolids. The agency cannot determine whether biosolids pollutants with incomplete risk assessments are safe.”

Sewage sludge is the solid, semisolid or liquid residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage. When sludge materials go through additional processing steps and treatment to meet EPA standards for land application, they are referred to as biosolids.

The conclusion of the report can be extended to all byproducts of the wastewater treatment process. Pull out those risk assessments and find the area that explains how prion risks are being mitigated to assure public health. Unfortunately, that vital section is missing.

Many risks are not addressed, including prions and radioactive waste. They don’t mention prions or radiation because there is no answer. Most nations are making the same mistake. We’re dumping killer proteins on crops, parks, golf courses, gardens, ski areas, school grounds and beyond. Wind, rain and irrigation spread these contaminants and many more throughout our communities and watersheds. We are injecting unsafe water into our drinking water supplies and aquifers. We are using prion-laced water to irrigate our crops. Answers begin with the truth. It’s time to demand answers about prion contamination and mismanagement around the world.

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Greener Cities is a division of Crossbow Communications. Greener Cities is a resource for sustainable and resilient cities and communities around the world.

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Author: Gary Chandler

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