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Irrigating Your Vegetables With Treated Sewage Water? Still Not a Good Idea if You Are Concerned About E. Coli

By Frank Pecarich
Retired Soil Scientist

Well, the season for growing leafy vegetables in Salinas Valley is mostly over until the spring. According to the history of the past 10 years, we will again see an outbreak of deadly E. coli 0157H: 7 sometime this coming summer of fall. We can safely say that because nothing of substance has changed since the furor over the 3 deaths and over 200 sickened citizens in the Fall of 2006.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans suffer 6.3 million illnesses per month, 27,000 people are hospitalized each month, and 416 die each month from something they ate.

We are being told that future attention to pathogen prevention in Monterey County will be mainly focused on animal grazing areas being too close to cultivated fields. That is because the primary “host” animal for E. coli 0157H: 7 is an animal like a cow. What isn’t appreciated is that when the pathogen E. coli 0147H:7 is ingested by a human, we humans are the “host” for that organism until it passes from our body.

In this last outbreak, there were 200 such humans who were harboring E. coli 0157H:7 plus all the others who were infected but did not report the disease. It has been estimated by pathologists and medical specialists that for every reported incident of E. coli 0157H:7 there are 9 more that are not reported. Those people then aided in the pathogen getting to another source of contamination, the sewer and ultimately, the local waste water treatment system. In the Monterey County incident, there may well be 2,000 people out there that were adversely impacted, not just the 200 as oft reported.

How Does It Get From Cows to Humans?

In addition to humans who are sick with drug resistant pathogens such as E. coli 0157H:7 passing their contaminated feces into the sewage system from their homes and the hospitals, blood and fecal material are flushed away from animal slaughter houses that can be contaminated with pathogens, like E. coli 0157H:7. Add to that source, the hospital treatment centers that have their sewage flushed into the local waste water treatment facility and you have a deadly toxic “Witch’s caldron” environment in the local sewer treatment system.

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On November 6th, we read that two major players in the recycled (treated sewage effluent) water business were sponsoring a research study. American Water, the private water utility company, has joined forces with the WateReuse Foundation to conduct a research project on the biology of recycled water.

The 30-month long, $500,000 project will “examine the data on how microbial re-growth in recycled water distribution systems alters effluent microbial water quality and how to control this germ re-growth”, the release said.

These same organizations have for years been telling the public that recycled/reclaimed tertiary treated sewage effluent was OK to spray on our leafy green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. Now they want to spend $500,000 to find out how to control microbial germ (E.coli 0157H:7) re-growth?

They now want to study something that they said didn’t exist.