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Confirmed - Prions Can
Survive Sewage Treatment!
From Patricia Doyle, PhD
Hello Jeff - This dated July 13, 2008 yet, we talked about this on your program MANY YEARS ago!  I even remember saying I was worried about prions spreading via crops.
"...(prions) are not degraded by standard wastewater decontamination and can end up in fertilizers, potentially contaminating crops."
This article also carries the same lame expert statements, such as "It is unlikely the prions would be guzzled in treated tap water, expert says." Oh, really?  I would like to ask the EXPERT why wouldn't prions find their way into treated drinking water?  
And then there was this statement:
"...essentially no risk to human health," said David Taylor, director of special projects with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.
Jeff, I must say that people first heard about this possibility on (guess where?) The Rense Program and they heard it many years ago. Now we have scientists saying that prions can survive standard wastewater decontamination. Ending up in fertilizer, which they very likely are, is very scary and can potentially contaminate our crops with Mad Cow disease.
Prions Can Survive Sewage Treatment - Says UW-Madison Study
But Risk From Mad Cow Said Low
By Elie Dolgin 
July 13, 2008
Mad cow disease-causing prions can survive conventional sewage treatment, according to a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison scientists.
Prions - rogue misfolded proteins that cause mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease, and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt- Jakob disease - are not degraded by standard wastewater decontamination and can end up in fertilizers, potentially contaminating crops.
It is unlikely the prions would be guzzled in treated tap water, expert says.
Prions never have been reported in U.S. municipal sewage. But as a precaution, "we should keep prions out of wastewater treatment plants," said Joel Pedersen, an environmental engineer at UW-Madison who led the study.
Prions are notoriously resilient to extreme heat, caustic chemicals and irradiation, but it wasn't known how they would fare under the standard barrage of treatments applied to wastewater sludge.
Researchers simulated a 20-day typical wastewater treatment regime in the laboratory on sewage taken from Madison's Nine Springs treatment plant and then spiked it with prions from the brains of infected hamsters. They found that a large fraction of the infectious prions survived the ordeal, eventually joining the treatment's end-product, known as biosolids.
"Should prions enter wastewater treatment plants, they would associate with the sludge," said Pedersen, who published his findings in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. "And they appear to survive the further sludge treatment and digestion."
Plenty of sources
Infectious prions may enter wastewater from a number of routes, including contaminated disposed carcasses from slaughterhouses, animal rendering or meatpacking facilities and private game hunters.
After the 2002 outbreak of chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin, deer carcasses initially were discarded in Dane County's public landfill. Months later, officials shifted to incineration out of fear of prions leaching through the waste.
Humans with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease also can shed prions in their urine, feces or blood.
Laboratory facilities are another potential prion source. In 2006, two employees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, alleged that improperly deactivated prions were released into the City of Ames sanitary sewer system, though a scientific review panel later ruled that the lab's prion management protocols were acceptable.
These findings cast doubt on the safety of biosolids, Pedersen said, though he noted that the water effluent was clean and prion-free.
Biosolids generally are thought to lack human pathogens and to be safe for agricultural applications. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District makes a fertilizer called Milorganite from its Jones Island treatment plant's biosolids. Madison makes its own biosolids fertilizer, called Metrogro.
"We're looking at this research and asking what we can do to improve our systems," said Jeff Spence, marketing director for Milorganite. "Based on the findings, there's little or no risk in regard to these rogue proteins as it relates to biosolids."
Little risk seen
Between the low prevalence of prion diseases and the low probability of prions surviving to enter landfill leachate, however, there was "essentially no risk" to human health, said David Taylor, director of special projects with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District.
"There has to be an exposure route," he said. "When you look at the potential pathways and occurrences of these kinds of (prion diseases), it just doesn't suggest that there would be a problem."
Todd Williams, an engineer with CH2M Hill in Richmond, Va., and the vice-chair of the Water Environment Federation's residual and biosolids committee, said that the researchers took "a quantum leap in their conclusions" in scaling up from a small laboratory-based study to what might happen in the real world.
"Any kind of digestion activity would be on such a small scale," said Williams, "that I question whether it would have the same concentrations of ammonia and methane gas," both of which could help break down prions.
Since prions were restricted to the biosolids and not the water, the study "gives better confidence that (prions) could be sequestered in matter associated with solid materials," and potentially removed, said Fran Kremer, a senior science adviser for the National Risk Management Research Laboratory of the Environmental Protection Agency, which partially funded the study.
She noted, however, that the prion concentrations tested were "higher than what we would anticipate to come into wastewater treatment plants," and that lower prion levels might not survive standard treatment.
Patricia A. Doyle DVM, PhD 
Bus Admin, Tropical Agricultural Economics 
Univ of West Indies 
Please visit my "Emerging Diseases" message board at: 
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