Risk Assessment Overlooks Prion Pathogen
The San Diego City Council unanimously approved plans to recycle sewage water into drinking water this week. In my opinion, it joined a growing global movement in what could become a human health disaster.
The latest wastewater reclamation project is another death sentence for millions of people who will drink the water and contaminate their homes, gardens and offices with a highly contagious pathogen called a prion. The exposure can cause neurological disorders in mammals, including Alzheimer’s disease.
As you know, a coalition of community leaders, business groups and environmental organizations sold the plan to citizens as the best way to reduce reliance on imported water, while creating a large, drought-proof water supply. Environmental groups said that the Pure Water project will mean less sewage dumped into the ocean and less reliance on desalination of that same ocean water. (San Diego is the last large city in America that still dumps untreated sewage into the sea. Unfortunately, San Diego and other cities are doomed to drink sewage if it comes from desalinization or reclaimed sources.
The city and its contractors did a great job of selling the plan to stakeholders in San Diego with smoke and mirrors. It also recruited some environmental groups to help neutralize resistance from more critical environmental and health advocates. Taxpayers coughed up $3.2 billion for the right to drink their own sewage (keep reading) and their neighbors’ diseases.
The “treated” water from the proposed San Diego system could be mixed into the San Vicente Reservoir and piped to customers, or the city could route the water directly into the distribution system. Once exposed to deadly prions, the waterways will be contaminated forever–serving as incubators and distributors of neurological disorders.
Concerns about a public backlash against drinking purified wastewater have prompted the city to spend $1 million on an education and outreach campaign. City officials noted that surveys have shown growing support in recent years for water-recycling programs, which some critics call toilet-to-tap projects. The city probably did not spend that much on a risk assessment. In fact, it was probably just a copy of another risk assessment prepared for another city of guinea pigs years ago.
The Problem With Prions and Prion Disease
If not for one tiny detail, I would be more open-minded and supportive of the practice of recycling wastewater. That microscopic detail is called a prion—the deadly and unstoppable protein behind the exploding Alzheimer’s epidemic, mad cow disease and other neurological disorders that are killing millions of people, wildlife and livestock around the world.
A new study confirms that people and animals dying of prion disease are contaminating the environment around them with a deadly and unstoppable protein 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.
The good news is that the research offers hope for earlier diagnosis among the millions of people impacted around the world. The discovery can promote earlier intervention and better disease management. It also can help develop screens to protect our blood supplies from donors with prion disease.
The bad news is that prions in urine underscore 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. Once victims die, carcasses also contaminate soil and water.
Dr. Stanley Prusiner earned a Nobel Prize in 1997 for identifying, naming and studying deadly prions. President Obama awarded Prusiner the National Medal of Science in 2010 to recognize the importance of his research.
In June 2012, Prusiner confirmed that Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and even ALS are prion diseases similar, if not identical, to CJD in people, mad cow disease in livestock and chronic wasting disease in wildlife. The variations in disease progression could be due to genetics in the patients or mutations in the prion, not different diseases entirely.
Additional research found that the unstoppable prion pathogen spreads through urine, feces, saliva, blood, milk, soil, water and the tissue of infected animals and humans. 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 water 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. We can’t afford to take the risk of further contaminating entire watersheds – increasing the pathway to humans, livestock, and wildlife downstream.
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 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 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.
The scientific name for prion disease is Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” TSEs include Alzheimer’s, mad cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), chronic wasting, Huntington’s, scrapie and possibly Parkinson’s. This transmissible family of disease is unstoppable for many reasons. In addition, once items are exposed to victims of prion disease, they can never be sterilized again.
Alzheimer’s and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are indistinguishable. They are essentially the same disease. 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—if there’s even a substantial difference between Alzheimer’s and CJD. 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.
The urine and sewage connection helps explain why the global Alzheimer’s epidemic is exploding. More than 44 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. 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 sewage processing plants. This lack of directive allows budget-strapped states and counties to regulate the practices in a variety of ways that best suit local municipalities and industries.
Dr. Soto’s test changes that equation. Now, the EPA can’t plead ignorance to the dangers of prions in biosolids and reclaimed sewage water. 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, testing will confirm that 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 or pellet production processes 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.
The EPA issued what it calls the “Sludge Rule,” which disclaims any responsibility for its questionable risk assessments regarding biosolids and recycled wastewater. The EPA reserves the right to adjust these risk assessments, however, as the test of time disproves its pseudo-science.
Prion researcher Dr. Joel Pedersen, from the University of Wisconsin, found that prions become 680 times more infective in certain soils. Pedersen’s research also found that sewage treatment does not inactivate prions.
“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.”
Meanwhile, we’re spreading tons of biosolids (sewage sludge) on farmland every day to produce our food. Organic food operations, including fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy are not immune to prion exposure.
We’re dumping biosolids on parks and golf courses and our backyards where we live and play. Coastal cities and ocean vessels dump their sewage right into the ocean, where prions can enter the food chain again, while washing back on our favorite beaches.
We’re dumping millions of tons of contaminated sewage into the oceans, rivers and on cropland around the world every day. We’re spraying reclaimed wastewater on our parks, golf courses and crops. In some cases, people are drinking reclaimed wastewater that has been recycled to their taps. Municipalities, water companies and sewage districts face new liabilities as never seen before.
The new urine study primarily references what is called variant CJD (vCJD is the supposed strain of prion that causes mad cow disease). I argue that a deadly prion is a deadly prion and all prion diseases should be managed assuming that prions are in the urine of all victims. There is no species barrier. There is no cure. There is no reason to assume that prion diseases referred to as Alzheimer’s, CJD, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and others are different from each other.
Based on this premise, caregivers and family members must arm themselves with facts that can save their lives. Simple acts can expose family and caregivers to the prion contagion. For example, many household items, including utensils and dishes that belong to people who have Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s are likely infected from saliva. It’s unsafe for others to use these items and people should not donate them to charity.
Despite the mass confusion and concern regarding prion disease, protective and sterilization protocols for Alzheimer’s and CJD are not the same and millions of people are being exposed to prion disease because of false securities. CJD is just the tip of a deadly, incurable iceberg and we all should sit up and pay attention right now. We’re recklessly allowing caregivers and stakeholders to expose themselves and others to the problem.
Although there are multiple causes of, and pathways for, prion disease, reckless policies around the world are contributing to the unstoppable epidemic. It’s spreading further every day. Stakeholders must arm themselves with facts that can promote reform because all infected mammals shed infectious prions in their blood, saliva, mucus, urine and feces. Prions also have been found in milk. In essence, the entire body of a victim is contaminated and must be managed accordingly.
Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and the prion disease epidemic is an area of special expertise. Please contact Gary Chandler to join our coalition for reform firstname.lastname@example.org.