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Sewage Sludge: A Pool Of Pathogens


Waste water treatment plant facilities retrieve millions of gallons a day of toxic water, containing thousands of different chemicals, pathogens and heavy metals. It is all reduced to a thick slurry and in many municipalities that soup is dried and processed into pellets that are then sold or given away to homeowners, landscapers and farmers to use as fertilizer. Could we be disposing our most toxic substances in a way that puts them in our food chain?

Dr. Sydney Bacchus demonstrates how municipalities that dry and reuse sludge are at risk of contaminating their communities with heavy metals and pathogens that are responsible for thousands of premature deaths in the United States every year.

More than just raw sewage makes its way to a waste water treatment plant. The waste water pumped in is put through a process that reduces it to the sludge and then is sent to an on-or-off property location to decompose. The composted product is sometimes put into pellets or bulk and made available for county projects and the private sector to use as a fertilizer replacement.

Bacchus had laboratory analyses performed on samples of sewage sludge compost that Athens-Clark County, GA sells to the public for home gardens. The lab reported the presence of arsenic, fluoride, lead, mercury and the human pathogen Stenotrophomonas

Bacchus notes Stenotrophomnas was featured on public radio's Fresh Air and on a recent PBS Frontline News episode as one of the "nightmare bacteria" that was "resistant not to just one or two antibiotics, but resistant to everything."

There are an unknown number of bacteria that are becoming increasingly immune to pharmaceutical antibiotics, and a growing number of bacteria that aren't responding at all. These have been labeled "superbugs" because they are capable of shielding themselves from, or even standing up to the strongest antibiotics. 

Bacchus recounts a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report which states that 2 million people in the United States are sickened every year with antibiotic-resistant infections, with at least 23,000 dying as a result. 

The Frontline and Fresh Air programs noted by Bacchus, focused on these "superbugs" and identified many of them as "gram-negative" human pathogens Acinetobacter baumannii and Chromobacterium violaceum. 

Bacchus claims samples collected from properties near the Athens-Clark County sewage sludge composting operations contained both pathogens. In addition to those findings, Bacchus discovered another pathogen also immune to most antibiotics, Aeromonas hydrophila, in a tributary of the Oconee River that flows through community property in the same vicinity.

The results reported by Bacchus also suggest special attention be placed to the amount of concentrated fluoride, arsenic, lead and mercury that are also making their way back into our food chain, the water we drink and into our pets and farm animals.

Most larger towns and cities don't insure the safety of their discarded sludge when a contracted hauler carries it away, leaving their residents subjected to unintended consequences. No one knows what the actual cost to those who reside in and around land fills, waste water and other toxic compost facilities amounts to in terms of mortality, quality of life and health care costs, but what is clear, is that it's happening all over the country, including right here. 

Bacchus's analysis clearly demonstrates how the danger is no longer limited to the other side of the tracks, where toxic disposal facilities are customarily located. It is now trucked to urban gardens, baseball fields, parks and school grounds; contaminating the soil children play on and the food grown at home.

A related petition about this problem is available (here). Its purpose is to bring responsibility and accountability to the Environmental Protection Administration and the US Department of Health and Human Services, by pressuring them to enforce the Clean Water Act, and other environmental regulations currently being violated in Georgia and other parts of the country via the practice.

In August of this year, Science Daily reported that it cost the U.S. $20 billion annually to fight off superbugs bacterium.

Both Manatee and Sarasota County participate in a sludge-for-sale program, selling their sludge to independent contractors: Manatee to Keen Farm and Grove Services, while Sarasota contracts Syngro to remove its sludge. Both the State of Florida and the State of Georgia have statutes that govern the disposal of sludge, though neither state is equipped to follow-up or inspect the products that return to the public arena. 

Until these products can get a clean bill of health, might we not continue to circulate what could be detrimental to our health and wellbeing?

Dr. Bacchus says, "I haven't seen any evidence that the composted sewage sludge my municipality is selling to the public is safe.  Even if these dangerous human pathogens could be eliminated, the other contaminants, such as fluoride, arsenic, lead and mercury should not be spread throughout the environment, gardens, playgrounds and parks."


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