- Hi Jeff, Here is some data on an extremely important
aspect of prion transmission: contaminated water.
- Note - As we know, the Brits killed and buried millions
of cattle... and some of them had mad cow. As these bodies decompose,
prions will enter the groundwater. But, even more amazing, is the use of
cow bones in some UK municipal water filters! -ed
- Researchers To Study Fate Of Prions In Wastewater
- With funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
a group of UW-Madison researchers will investigate what happens if infectious
prion proteins - considered the cause of chronic wasting disease and mad
cow disease - enter wastewater treatment plants.
- Joining UW-Madison scientists Judd Aiken and Joel Pedersen
currently investigating the fate of prion proteins in soil and landfills,
Katherine (Trina) McMahon and Craig Benson, both faculty members in civil
and environmental engineering, will examine the ability of these infectious
proteins to withstand the processes used to treat wastewater.
- At most treatment plants, microorganisms decompose biodegradable
material in the sewage and, in theory, should also disintegrate infectious
proteins, says McMahon. But as she points out, prion proteins generally
are very resistant to degradation.
- "Prion proteins can be viewed as an environmental
contaminant," says McMahon, adding that it currently is not known
how long these proteins can remain intact and infectious in the environment.
- "Prions have not been detected in wastewater entering
treatment plants, but we can imagine several scenarios in which we may
need to be concerned about the presence of prions in wastewater,"
- During this one-year project, which is supported with
a grant of nearly $100,000, McMahon and her co-investigators will focus
on several questions, including what percentage of these proteins would
be degraded during treatment and what percentage would be released back
into the environment in treated water. If prions are released, the researchers
will determine if the proteins remain infectious.
- McMahon says answers to these questions will be of particular
interest to the engineers of treatment plants receiving water from slaughterhouses
or rendering facilities, as well as septic tank owners who dress deer and
potentially wash infected tissue down the drain.
- "The EPA," adds McMahon, "would like to
know what the fate of prions would be in wastewater treatment plants to
determine if they need to ensure that prions are excluded from waste streams
entering these facilities."
- More Madness Over Cow bones In English Water
- By Dirk Beveridge
- The Associated Press
- After stirring up a ruckus with vegetarians by filtering
water through charcoaled cattle bones, an English utility said Tuesday
it's looking for less controversial ways to keep the supply clean. Yorkshire
Water PLC said it would "continue to consult closely" with the
vegetarians, while assuring the handful of affected rural customers that
their water is safe.
- "There is a whole vast array of treatment processes
that are available," Yorkshire Water spokesman Richard Sears said.
"All are not suitable for every water treatment plant."
- Before the Vegetarian Society started complaining, the
charcoal cow filters seemed perfect for remote areas of the Yorkshire moors,
where water is frequently discolored by peaty minerals after a heavy rainfall.
Yorkshire Water's filters are made from the brittle bones of sacred Indian
cattle that live to an old age because of religious custom. Yorkshire Water
has always said none of the infamous British "mad cows" were
ever carbonized into the charcoal.
- The utility said Tuesday that no good alternatives had
immediately been found for the 11 small filtration plants that use the
cow bones, but that it's still investigating -- without making any promises.
- "We've got through the first hurdle," enthused
Chris Dessent, a spokesman at the Vegetarian Society. "Yorkshire Water
is admitting there is a problem."
- The dispute gained new momentum in December when Yorkshire
Water complained to advertising regulators about a one-time newspaper advertisement
taken out by the vegetarian group showing a dead cow by a water well.
- "In some parts of the world, dead cows can end up
in the drinking water," the headline read. "In some parts of
Yorkshire, they're put there."The message continued: "If you're
a vegetarian, or wish to avoid meat, you'd think you'd be safe with a glass
of ordinary tap water. Not in North Yorkshire."
- Just 2,868 of Yorkshire Water's 4.5 million customers
are affected. But it was an emotive appeal in a land where 6 percent of
the 58 million residents are believed to be vegetarian and animal rights
are a significant political issue.
- The Advertising Standards Authority planned to issue
a ruling Wednesday siding with Yorkshire Water on two out of three counts.The
ruling, which carries no sanctions, finds the ad "offensive and distressing
because of the gratuitous use of the headline and the photograph,"
and also "unfairly denigratory to Yorkshire Water.
- "Despite that, the ad was not "misleading and
irresponsible," as Yorkshire Water had contended, the ruling says.
After the charcoaled cows made news last summer, Yorkshire Water had said
it could not cater to the "individual dietary needs or individual
religious, ethical or medical needs" of all customers.
- (First published 4-8-98)
- EPA Concern Over CJD Prions Entering The Water
- By Todd Hartman
- Rocky Mountain News - Denver
- The EPA is scrutinizing laboratory practices at the Colorado
Division of Wildlife, worried that the infectious agents believed to cause
chronic wasting disease could wash into public sewers and underground septic
- Water regulators with the Environmental Protection Agency
could require wildlife officials to alter plumbing at division laboratories
in Fort Collins, Craig and elsewhere to ensure that the persistent protein
- called a prion - doesn't accumulate in water supplies.
- "The concern is that there's so little known about
the prions, that we think we ought to be taking a relatively protective,
conservative approach to things," said Steve Tuber, director of water
programs for EPA's regional office in Denver. "We're just being careful."
For the moment, the agencies are exchanging proposals on how to handle
the matter. At the root of the problem: How to ensure tiny bits of tissue,
or other possibly contaminated fluids or animal hair, don't make it through
floor drains when laboratory areas are washed down.
- The EPA hasn't been a visible player in the CWD problem
- a fatal brain malady in deer and elk - until now.
- The federal agency's timing could make things tough for
the Division of Wildlife, as it gears up for a fall hunting season in which
state workers are prepared to conduct up to 50,000 analyses on deer and
elk heads to test for the presence of the disease.
- "At this point, we're still in operation (for testing).
We intend to be - we hope to be - all the way through hunting season,"
said John Smeltzer, a division supervisor. "If we need to modify our
processes, we will do so."
- With archery season under way for nearly a week and some
rifle hunting allowed on private lands, about 100 heads - most of them
elk - have been submitted to the state for CWD testing, said Division of
Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury.
- Neither agency could say what the ultimate solution will
be. The EPA has recommended a number of possibilities, including the use
of absorbent paper on lab benches to soak up blood or other fluids. The
division has pledged to come back with some ideas of its own, Tuber said.
- Prions pose the same problem as some toxic and radioactive
contaminants: They appear to have a long life and survive in the environment
for at least a few years. Researchers have found that animals placed in
long-empty pens once home to infected animals can acquire the disease,
presumably because the prions remain viable in the soil.
- In addition, prions are hard to destroy, resistant to
extreme heat - up to 1,100 degrees - sunlight and many disinfectants. Agencies
responsible for containing the spread of CWD have often incinerated deer
and elk carcasses at very high temperature to ensure destruction of the
- There are no known cases of a human developing CWD. Nevertheless,
scientists urge people to avoid eating meat from infected animals. A related
ailment, mad cow disease, which strikes cattle, has made the leap into
humans, killing more than 120 people overseas.
- Tuber emphasized that the Division of Wildlife isn't
disposing contaminated animal tissue "in any intentional way,"
but that the EPA is concerned with residue left behind. "They are
taking precautions; we've asked them to take additional ones," Tuber
- Of most immediate concern is a special EPA permit needed
for a Fort Collins laboratory where parts of the brain, tonsils and lymph
nodes are removed from deer and elk heads. When the lab is washed down,
the rinse water flows to an underground septic tank. Under the law, the
lab is considered an industrial discharger and is operating under temporary
permission. But the EPA wants more steps taken before issuing a permit.
- It will be several more weeks, after more detailed talks
between EPA and Division of Wildlife scientists, before the agency will
decide whether to grant a permit, Tuber said.
- He said the EPA wanted to avoid interfering in the division's
- "We want to give them an opportunity to keep that
protection in place, and at the same time be protective of groundwater,"
- Also of concern is the division's laboratory in Craig,
where rinse water is sent to a public wastewater treatment plant. The solution
there could involve pre-treatment of some kind before the discharge can
be released into the sewers, Tuber said.
- Smeltzer said the division will work with the EPA, but
believes it takes significant precautions already. He notes that very small
amounts of tissue are handled in the labs - the brain samples extracted
are about the size of two grains of rice, he said - and that workers frequently
spray down work areas with a disinfectant known to be effective in neutralizing
- Tuber said the EPA also needs to look at processing plants,
where deer and elk are carcasses are prepared. "It's something that
we're just starting to get to," he said. (First published 9-6-2)
- Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
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