WHEN A SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT GETS GASTROENTERITIS:
You may get a life threatening infection through direct contact, the air, the water or your food.
By Jim Bynum
What? You say sewage treatment plants don't get gastroenteritis and besides that is nasty stuff that went
down your toilet, and you wouldn't dare touch anything with sewage in it or on it? Have I got a surprise for
you? You are right, sewage is nasty. It is loaded with bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxic chemicals, hormone
disrupters, drug residues that scientists admit they know little or nothing about. However, you may have
direct contact with unlabeled sewage in the fertilizer used on your lawn and garden. You may also have
direct contact with sewage or inhale the toxic contaminates in sewage when it is used to irrigate, or
fertilize, city parks, or school grounds. Besides your home garden, you may buy food that has been
fertilized or irrigated with sewage.
You say, how do you know if you have been infected with this nasty stuff in sewage? Actually, you may not
even know you have been infected. Some infections could go unnoticed for 20 or 30 years until you get a
really serious disease. More than likely the first symptoms will appear to be the flu or food poisoning that
may be very mild or it could be life threatening and even fatal. There are some bad bugs (bacteria, viruses
and parasites) in sewage that are drug resistant and can't even be treated, like E. coli 0157:H7 and viruses.
If some of these little bugs get in cuts or scrapes, the infection can destroy the soft tissue and that will
require surgery to remove the dead tissue. Some little bugs are so small they can go straight to the brain
to cause disease. Others cause cancer and respiratory diseases. That fat person next to you may even be
infected with a virus that makes cells develop more fat than they would normally have.
For the last 25 years or so, EPA and its partners have confused us with scientific chatter about the science
behind the high levels of proper sewage treatment as it passes through a sewage treatment plant.
However, according to Dr. Peter Maier, a retired professional wastewater plant engineer, that is just not
the case. He says sludge is not properly treated and explains his position in fairly technical terms. EPA
retired hazardous waste expert William Sanjour pointed out during the 1978-79 sludge war at EPA that, "the
purpose of a sewage treatment plant is to capture the toxic substances and other bad stuff in sewage and
to concentrate it in the sludge." More recently, EPA retired microbiologist David Lewis held the same
public position and was forced out of the agency. In the one study on health effects of exposure, Lewis
says, "Two cases involving mortality from S. aureus occurred with individuals who directly contacted
freshly applied biosolids."
It is an amazing contradiction that EPA has documented studies which show that the chemicals and disease
organisms in sewage could do seriously bodily harm if you are expose to it, yet, EPA's Office of Water
claims these deadly chemicals and disease organisms lose their ability to harm you when they go through a
sewage treatment plant. Its true, EPA did not include them in its risk assessment because they didn't
consider them to be harmful.
You ask, how is sewage treated? The reality is that a sewage treatment plant is simply a very poor imitation
of your stomach. While there is a mechanical separation of the larger objects going through the sewer
pipes, like the human gut, the basic work of breaking down the solids in sewage is done by living bacteria.
Just as in the gut, the bacteria break down the material. The waste is then separated into two streams of
liquids and solids.
When high levels of material that are toxic to bacteria enter the sewage treatment, the treatment plant
experiences an "upset" (gastroenteritis - diarrhea) and untreated reclaimed sewage effluent water and
sewage sludge biosolids are spewed out into the environment. In effect, the treatment plant bacteria are
shocked into a survival mode and slow down or simply shut down all activity. The same situation may
develop when combined storm water and sewer systems overwhelm the bacteria during a rainstorm and
pass through the treatment plant.
As Sanjour pointed out, the most important point is that sewage treatment plants are not designed to kill or
destroy bacteria, parasites and viruses. They are designed to separate most of the bacteria, parasites and
viruses from sewage effluent and concentrate them in the sewage sludge biosolids. The design called for
the remaining bacteria, parasites and viruses in sewage effluent water to be diluted in a running stream of
water to reduce the potential harm to the environment and the public using the water for recreational
purposes such as fishing or swimming.
This system design worked pretty well as long as it was followed because it protected the treatment plant
workers and implied the public was being protected. When there is an upset in the treatment plant, then
all bets were off and even the public drinking water supply is put at risk. As an example, in 1993, the
human form of the parasite Cryptosporidium got into the drinking water supply in Milwaukee, Over 400,000
people were infected, 4,000+ were hospitalized and about 400 people died.
You ask, how could that happen? EPA only requires testing for some indicator organisms in most probable
numbers. No one seems sure what they are, since they are not the same as those used by the Public Health
Service. Scientists have argued for years the test only reveal about one percent of the bacteria present in
the sample. What is even worse is that test calls for heat shocking the sample before testing to inactivate
most of the bacteria. Moreover, there is no testing after the sewage water or sludge biosolids leave the
sewage treatment plant. Reactivation of the bacteria as it travels through the pipeline or while the sludge
biosolids is in storage is documented, yet, no one knows what drug-resistant diseases organisms (or how
many it take to infect you) are in the final sewage product you may contact on lawns, parks and school
EPA has no standard, or procedure, for killing or destroying disease organism toxins in sewage effluent
water or sewage sludge biosolids, Its strange but EPA does say if you are exposed to these disease
organisms polluting sewage they may cause death, disease, cancer, etc.. At best, some disease organisms
may be appear to be reduced by the faulty test or inactivated for a short time due to heat or stress or lack
of food, until an upset occurs and the treatment plant gets gastroenteritis - diarrhea. In fact, EPA has no
basis in law for its sludge policy.
The original EPA system design called for sewage effluent water to be fully monitored under the Clean
Water Act and required it to be properly diluted in the receiving waters to prevent excessive exposure of
the public to toxic chemicals and deadly disease organisms. The system design also called for sewage
sludge biosolids to be disposed of safely in a sanitary landfill under the protective measure of the
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (solid waste law) to prevent exposure of the public to hazardous
chemicals and deadly disease organisms concentrated in the sludge.
The reason for sewage sludge biosolids disposal in a sanitary landfill was because of the concentrated
viruses and bacteria who had a DNA and gene swapping party in the treatment plant as well as the
hazardous chemicals. EPA researchers first wrote about the DNA and gene swapping parties in 1982.
According to EPA virologist Mark Meckes, these DNA and gene swapping parties in the treatment plant
created drug-resistant bacteria that were leaving the treatment plants. The results of the DNA and gene
swapping parties in the sewage treatment plants have been documented since the 50s and as late as 2006.
Yet, EPA and its partners have promoted the use of reclaimed sewage effluent water for irrigating food
crops (Salinas Valley, California -- 76 million foodborne illnesses (1999)), public parks, lawns, and school
grounds (Papillomavirus pandemic - 25 million infected children and young women). It is used for
recharging drinking water aquifers (Sierra Vista, Arizona -- Salmonella and cancer outbreak that can't be
explained by CDC). Reclaimed sewage effluent is also used in building cooling towers (legionnaires
disease - sick building syndrome). Then we have three viruses that are known to cause cells to develop
excessive fat that may be in reclaimed water and sludge bisolids.
These deadly little bugs and chemicals can have an effect on every organ in our body. No one in authority
wants to know how many illnesses attributed to food could be from exposure on you lawn, city park or
school grounds. There is a correlation between these pandemic illnesses and reusing sewage. As an
example, in 1986 (EPA) there were only 2 million foodborne illnesses after the limited use of sewage sludge
biosolids on food crops since EPA created its sludge use policy 1981. No one will admit to a current 2007
When you or your children are exposed to disease organism such as Salmonella or E. coli, either when
dining out, on your lawn, city park or school ground, the stomach upset from "food poisoning" will be
classified as gastroenteritis and like the treatment plant you will spew disease organisms out into the
environment. If you are unlucky enough to be exposed to other disease organisms and chemicals, you may
not survive, unless you have an extremely powerful immune system. This is not a farmers problem, it is our
problem, the epidemics are here, and it is time to stop it.