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Wrong Focus by Scientists Should Be Next Inquiry: Expanding Antibiotic Resistant Plague

by Jim Bynum, VP and Gail Bynum, Ph.D
Help for Sewage Victims


In the September 11, 2009 article on the 2006 spinach outbreak, Wild Boar or Waste Water? Who Slimed the Spinach?, the question was "Can Wildlife Really be Blamed when U.S. is Using Contaminated Water to Irrigate our Fields?". The article traced the roots of the antibiotic resistant Shiga Toxin producing E. coli 0157:H7 from a naval officer at the Naval Biosciences Laboratory at University of California, Oakland in 1975 to the first documented wild boar infection in 2006. While the source of the contamination was never fully determined by CDC, the same strain of E. coli 0157:H7 was found in San Benita River water as well as cattle and wild pigs. The most disturbing part of the CDC study was a remark that they also found E. coli 0157:H7 in the river and on the ranch that did not match the outbreak strain. This is a clear indication that this deadly E. coli 0157:H7 mutant clone is still swapping genetic material as it moves through wastewater treatment plants into the environment in treated sewage sludge fertilizer, treated sewage effluent and treated sewage effluent reclaimed water irrigation. As of September 2006, CDC had documented 3,520 unique strains of E. coli O157:H7.

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The contamination of vegetables has been blamed on animals. The habitats have been removed around fields as well as buffers along streams. Yet, a recent study by the University of California at Davis (UC) could only find 20 infected species in 3 counties, even though there have been 20 contaminated outbreaks since 1995. What they found were two cowbirds, two coyotes, five crows, one deer mouse and 10 feral pigs infected with E. coli 0157:H7. No E. coli 0157:H7 strains were found in deer, opossums, raccoons, skunks, ground squirrels or other bird and mouse species.

The question is how could so few animals become infected with an antibiotic resistant Shiga Toxin producing bacteria never before seen in nature before 1975, if they contributed to the CDC's estimate of 73,000 E. coli 0157:H7 human illnesses in the United States annually (2002). Foodborne illnesses have become a plague based on CDC's 1999 estimate of 76 million cases of foodborne illnesses each year. That is one out of ever four people in the US. That is also 38 times the 2 million foodborne cases reported by Microbiologist Charles Gerba and EPA in 1986.

Currently, the most prevalent clinical plague strains of Shiga Toxin producing E.coli are 026, 029, 039, 045, 0103, 0111, 0113, 0121, 0128, 0145. Other emerging clinical strains are O96:H19, ONT:NM, ONT: H18, and ONT:H14. The shiga-like toxins strains may cause bloody diarrhea leading to the development of Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and death. Other mutant strains of food and water borne shiga-toxin producing bacteria that create HUS are not even on the publics radar, such as: Campylobacter, Citrobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, and Yersinia.

The First Step on the Path to Modern Plagues

In 1973, Herbert Boyer, professor emeritus of biochemistry and biophysics at the UC San Francisco, and Stanley Cohen, Stanford, deliberately transferred antibiotic resistant genes from salmonella and staphylococcus bacteria into E. coli, thereby creating new bacteria strains never before seen in nature. The insertion of antibiotic resistant genes became the standard to verify the transfer of targeted genetic material into genetically modified crops as well as mutant bacteria now used in manufacturing processes and pesticides.

Boyer noted in his Oral History that it was normal procedure to grow up to 10 liters of bacteria and dump them down the drain. He said the scientific community was concerned about the "hazards" of this type of research, especially the potential recombination of a bacterial plasmid with a cancer causing animal virus. The concern was the sewers could end up full of cancer causing bacteria. Boyer rejected the scientific concern because he thought releasing mutant bacteria in sewers would be no worse that peeing in the ocean. The government temporarily stopped his research, but apparently duplicated his research at its UC Oakland facility, where the naval officer was infected with the first case of E. coli 0157. A patent for the process was issued to Boyer and Cohen in 1980.

Like Boyer, few scientists could conceive that sewage treatment plants would become swap meets for bacteria to collect new genes in the 1970s, including genes for antibiotic resistance. EPA first documented transfer of genes between bacteria in sewage treatment plants in a 1982 study by Mark Meckes. The study documented that a higher percentage of antibiotic resistant bacteria were released from the treatment plant than entered it in raw sewage. A 1984 Canadian study found rare pathogens in chlorinated sewage sludge such as, Yersinia enterocolitica, Yersinia pestis (Black Plague), Pasteurella multocida, and Hafnia alvei. The study also confirmed an increase in the number of mutant antibiotic resistant pathogens released from treatment plants due to chlorination. These studies and similar ones appear to explain the 3,520 E. coli 0157:H7 mutant clones developing from that first 1975 infection.

Antibiotic Resistant Disease Causing Organisms

Antibiotics do not effect viruses or viral infections. Even though viruses in treated sewage may be extreme pathogens, and cause obesity, only bacteria for which standard test are available are addressed here.

The current accepted theory for the creation of antibiotic resistance has been the misuse, or overuse, of antibiotics by doctors and/or the use of antibiotics in livestock by farmers. This theory apparently has its roots in the high use of antibiotics in Japan in the 1950s and 60s during which time antibiotic resistance became a major problem, while the rest of the world seemed to have escape the problem. There is little doubt now that the lack of antibiotic resistance problems in the U.S at that time can be attributed to the fact we were not spreading contaminated sewage on our food crops. Scientists learned that when new forms of pathogens are introduced into any isolated society as they were in Japan after World War II by the occupation armies, the new pathogens will overwhelm weakened immune systems. The occupying armies were made aware of this phenomenon and warned not to eat raw vegetables and fruit.

In promoting treated sewage use and reclaimed water on food crops, regulators, sewage scientists, and the sewage industry harp on the point that Japan was a country that had used human waste as a fertilizer on food crops for hundreds of years with no problems. The saving grace for most people is the human immune systems ability to adapt and protect the survivors from those pathogens we are routinely exposed to in daily life. However, we now understand that even with a good immune system, when antibiotic resistant genes are transferred to gut bacteria, the gut bacteria may retain that antibiotic resistance for more than four years.

Even a good immune system may not protect you from the six newest antibiotic resistant superbugs found in sewage and sludge: Staphylococcus (MRSA) (19,000 deaths annually; Acinetobacter baumannii (20 -50% death rate); Aspergillus fungus (50 - 60% death rate); Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium; Pseudomonas aeruginosa; and the thermotolerant fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Klebsiella spp. Aspergillus fungus is a major risk with composted sludge. Staphylococcus (MRSA) is an example of a plague spreading slowly after EPA opened the sludge floodgates in 1993 when there were only 1,900 hospitalizations. By 2005 the hospitalizations had climbed to 368,300.

God Mandated Land Application of Sewage?

In the 1979 History of Land Application as a Treatment alternative, EPA claims land treatment of sewage was mandated by God in biblical times (Deuteronomy 23: 13). The point was God didn't want to step in shit as He walked through the camp. Based on the following verse, God would consider dumping contaminated human waste in our surface water and on our food very unholy.

By the time EPA was created in 1970 scientists had recognized that dilution of sewage pollutants in water was not a sustainable disposal option. Our surface water was extremely polluted and even the ocean environment was being destroyed by sludge dumping and sewage outfalls. EPA decided the best way to protect our waters was to recreate the sewage land treatment systems of the 1800 and early 1900s. To that end, in 1981 EPA, FDA and USDA created a federal policy to promote the release of bacteria and other pathogens to the environment through sewage effluent, reclaimed sewage water and sewage sludge. The purpose of the policy was to remove contaminated sewage sludge and sewage effluent from the nations waters. This was a political requirement included in the 69 billion dollar federal grants program to build primary sewage treatment plants. However, there was a conflict with the available science which showed none of the treatment processes actually killed pathogens which could survive on grazing land for over 70 weeks.

Hiding the Pathogens in Sludge and Reclaimed Water

It was EPA's original contention in the proposed 1989 guidelines that there were only five bacteria pathogens of concern in sewage sludge (Campylobacter, Escherichia coli (pathogenic species), Salmonella, Shigella, and Vibrio Cholerae). All reference to named bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths were removed from the final 1993 part 503 sludge guidelines because of the political requirement for land treatment as an alternate to disposal in a landfill. Based on the testing requirements, EPA chose to focus on inactivating the gram negative coliform family of Enterobacteriaceae, particularly E. coli and Salmonella, for which standard tests were available.

The standard coliform test for Enterobacteriaceae in water and reclaimed water is done at midrange (30 - 40 C) growth temperature of 35°C (95°F). The confirmation test for fecal contamination is the fecal coliform test for thermotolerant members of Enterobacteriaceae done at 44.5° C. (112.1° F), usually for the superbugs, E. coli and/or Kelbsiella. Generally less than 5% of Enterobacteriaceae are active in the thermotolerant test. E. coli 0157:H7 is not thermotolerant.

University of California scientists have now exposed the fraudulent tests required by EPA. They state, "Whether talking about Good Agricultural Practices or TMDL's (Total Maximum Daily Loads) in ag-runoff water, developing fruit and vegetable microbial standards, food safety management and certification plans, or setting regional water policy, basing decisions on total numbers of 'Coliform' bacteria or 'Fecal Coliforms' is not supported by current science. These days, there is a lot of talking and a lot of confusion. It may be helpful to look at Figure 1 and realize that all 'Fecal Coliforms' are also 'Coliforms' and some Fecal Coliforms are non-pathogenic E. coli and some are pathogenic and toxigenic E. coli . Some pathogens, such as Salmonella are 'Coliforms' but don't give a positive result in tests for 'Fecal Coliforms'."

Reclaimed Water in Salinas Valley, CA

State rules required the inactivation of most viable bacteria but do allow some viable coliform contamination. In developing the reclaimed sewage system for irrigating the 12,000 acre Salinas Valley vegetable crops, scientists only tested for E. coli 0157:H7, Legionella, Salmonella and the parasites Cyclospora, Cryptosporidium and Giardia within the treatment plant. It was their stated false assumption that microorganisms could not pass through leaves and plant roots into the edible tissues. Yet, the authors made a non-scientific positive statement that "viable organisms of public concern" were not present in the final water.

All pathogenic organisms were not included and many disinfected organisms survive by entering a viable but nonculturable state by standard lab methods. Sewage scientists tell us these organism are dead, but they have a habit of coming back to life. A current study show the pathogenic organisms Aeromonas, Legionella, Mycobacterium, and Pseudomonas, occurred more frequently in reclaimed water than coliform, fecal coliform or E. coli.

Sewage Scientists and Regulators who Promote "Treated" Sewage Use

Sewage scientists claim treated sewage sludge and reclaimed water are safe for use on fruits and vegetables based on federal guidelines. The federal guidelines (part 503) assure the public Class A sludge containing up to 1,000 thermotolerant fecal coliforms per gram of solids when it leaves the treatment process is perfectly safe for direct contact on lawns, parks and school grounds because it only indicates pathogenic disease causing organisms may be present. The guidelines also assure farmers liquid Class B with 2 million thermotolerant bacteria per gram of sludge disposed of on grazing land is safe for cattle grazing after 30 days. Not only that, but 30 days after sludging a field, it is safe to harvest food crops, feed crops, and fiber crops. What EPA doesn't want you to know is that the thermotolerant fecal coliform test itself inactivates all of the disease causing family of Enterobacteriaceae except for less that 5%, while other members of the family Enterobacteriaceae in the sludge continue to multiply every 20 minutes or so. Not only that, but EPA documents show bacteria may survive in soil and only grazing land for over one year, and on vegetables for up to six months.

Sewage scientists blame the victims who fail to properly wash their hands, wash vegetables and fruits, or cook the food until it is well done. They know treatment only temporarily inactivates some disease causing organisms, organisms may be inside the vegetables and fruits, and that some disease causing organisms may be killed by cooking, but the deadly toxins they produce as they die are not affected by the high heat. While there a large group of toxins, a major concern is necrotizing toxins (flesh eating) which kill cells. FDA doesn't want you to know it signed the 1981 policy and it is one of the parties responsible for spreading these disease causing organisms on food crops.

In its new school lunch programs USDA is going to depend on "industry recognized best practices" rather than establishing appropriate safety standards. The only Shiga Toxin producing bacteria recognized by USDA guidelines is E. coli 0157:H7. USDA doesn't want you to know it is one of the parties that signed the 1981 policy and is responsible for spreading these disease causing organisms on farms and grazing land.

Recently, the taxpayers of Columbus, Ohio paid a $10,000 fine because the Sewage Department was responsible for dumping thousands of gallons of treated liquid sewage sludge on a farm where runoff poisoned Paint Creek in Fayette County. Ohio's EPA is proposing a ban on sludge dumping on the 8,800 permitted farm fields between December 15 and March 1 when the ground may be frozen or covered with snow. Ohio EPA doesn't want its citizens to know any major rainfall will cause runoff during the rest of the year poisoning surface waters and due to a statutory exemption in the Clean Water Act that poisonous runoff mixture of chemicals and disease causing organisms is legal.

Adapted from technical paper Wrong Focus by Scientists Should Be Next Inquiry