29 Oct 2010

E Coli, the government and you

Jim Byrnum sent me this note on the dangers we are not looking for:
For the past 40 years it has been EPA's position that Coliform and Fecal coliform are not disease causing organisms, but are only indicators that fecal material from warm blooded animals may be present in food, sewage, reclaimed water, sludge and drinking water. That is a lie by omission as there are no coliform or fecal coliform organisms. Coliform is the name of a test for a group of gram negative [1] animal, plant, soil and water bacteria incubated for 24-48 hours at normal body temperature, of which, 30 will cause disease in humans. Fecal coliform is the name of a test for the same bacteria that may still be viable after being cooked for 24-48 hours at 112.1°F. Generally, less than 5% of two bacteria strains (Escherichia coli & Klebsiella) will continue to show some small amount of viable activity at the high incubation temperature. The growth of other disease causing bacteria are either suppressed or ignored [2]. An additional test for E. coli has been used as a confirmation indicator that fecal material may be present, based on the premise that it is not harmful, because it is part of the normal gut flora. The tests have a 100 year history based on the theory that harmful fecal bacteria should be separated from nonharmful bacteria found in cold blooded animals, plants, soil and water. According to the literature, bacteria found growing in the test at 98.6°F may be from cold blooded animals and of no sanitary significance. Therefore, it has been assumed that only bacteria that grow at 112.1°F can be considered as evidence of fecal pollution from sewage. It is hard to believe scientists have not challenged these 100 year old assumptions since medical testing is done at 98.6°F [3]. A review of the medical literature reveals that once the so called harmless E. coli is outside the gut (internally or externally) it will cause such diseases as blood poisoning, urinary tract infections, meningitis, etc., and even necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating) [4]. Some strains of Escherichia coli & Klebsiella have become antibiotic resistant superbugs. Lying, even by omission, about the tests has put the national economy and public health system at risk [5].
In response to this, I asked the following five questions (marked in the text above), which Jim answered:

  1. What's gram negative mean?
    Gram-negative bacteria lose the crystal violet stain (and take the color of the red counterstain) in Gram's method of staining. This is characteristic of bacteria that have a cell wall composed of a thin layer of a particular substance (called peptidoglycan). The most important observation made by EPA was the fact that "a major shift in nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections from Gram-positive to Gram-negative bacteria occurred in hospital patients during the 1960's and the early 1970's." Western Kentucky University's 208 MICROBIOLOGY. SECTION 3. LABORATORY WEEK 12 [PDF], "Members of genera belonging to the Enterobacteriaceae [coliform] family have earned a reputation placing them among the most pathogenic and most often encountered organisms in clinical microbiology. These Gram- negative rods are usually associated with intestinal infections, but can be found in almost all natural habitats."
  2. So the cold version of these bacteria are dangerous too?
    FDA states, "Although most strains of E. coli are not regarded as pathogens, they can be opportunistic pathogens that cause infections in immunocompromised hosts. There are also pathogenic strains of E. coli that when ingested, causes gastrointestinal illness in healthy humans." "In a recent study looking at 2299 participants after a mean follow-up of 4.5 years after an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter species within a regional drinking water supply, "arthritis was reported in 15.7% of participants who had been asymptomatic during the outbreak, and in 17.6% and 21.6% of those who had moderate and severe symptoms of acute gastroenteritis."

    If you noticed, the so-called cold version is actually at the normal human body temperature. Animal body temperature is between 100F and 103F. We are dead before our core body temperature reaches the test temperature for fecal coliform of 112.1F. The best example is E. coli that gets through the stomach wall of infants and young calves in the first week of life. Both are unlikely to survive.
  3. So the EPA [and USDA and FDA] is NOT testing for dangerous stuff?
    EPA claims it is to costly and takes too much time. The reality is there is no way to test for all disease causing organisms. EPA doesn't have tests for all of them. Some takes days or weeks to double once. Drinking water treatment plants are allowed to fail 5% of the required monthly tests.
  4. Then why aren't we getting sick from those EColi? Surely they would be pinpointed as the source of problems in a pollution outbreak.
    No one has been looking, but we are getting sick.

    The one thing we have going for us is that most people have a good immune system. Most sources of outbreaks are never found. Case in point is the outbreaks associated with spinach and lettuce from the Salinas Valley which is irrigated with reclaimed (recycled) sewage effluent. CDC: "In most of these cases, the cause (food, water, other) is unknown." CDC now claims "Some outbreaks aren't detected, investigated, or reported because many states lack the resources."

    • 1986: There were one to two million cases of food poisoning (Gerba, EPA Risk Assessment for landfilling sludge)
    • 1990: There were about 6 million case of food poisoning
    • 1994: There were about 33 million cases of food poisoning and 9,000 deaths EPA-USDA-CDC Report to President, From Farm to Table (1997)
    • 1996: There were about 80 million case of food poisoning (Ralph J. Touche, Chief Sanitarian, Public Health Service)
    • 1997: There we about 81 million case of food poisoning (GAO report)
    • 1998: CDC estimates 360 million cases of acute diarrhea, most from unknown source of exposure and 9,100 deaths annually.(1987 estimate)
    • 1999: CDC estimates there are only about 76 million foodborne cases annually, 325,000 Hospitalized and 5,000 deaths (Mead,et.al).
    CDC still uses these figures = 6.3 million illnesses per month, 27,000 people hospitalized each month, 416 dead each month.
  5. And why would the EPA [and USDA and FDA] NOT want to do its job on water safety?
    EPA has a conflict. On one hand it has a responsibility to enforce the law to protect public health. On the other hand it has the responsibility to control the disposal of toxic waste. In 1982, EPA, FDA, and USDA created a policy to spread disease contaminated sludge on fruits and vegetables. The only way to do that is to use a test that hides most bacteria. Since the sludge has infectious characteristics, it is a hazardous waste under the Solid Waste Act. Reclaimed water is a state responsibility. EPA has reserved Appendix in the Hazardous waste regulation for treatment of infection waste and to list etiologic agents.
As a further followup, I asked: Any ideas of gov't admitting liability for insufficient testing/regulation of this stuff?

It is the government's position that coliform bacteria do not cause disease (true), however, any Entrobacteriaceae found in the coliform test do. As an example, the coliform Yersinia entercolitica was not known to cause gastroenteritis before 1976, therefore it could be said it didn't cause disease. On the other hand, the bad brother Yersinia pestis causes the bubonic (Black Plague), pneumonic, and septicemic plagues. There is a common error in belief that the first will go through the sewer where human infections may occur through contaminating our water and food, while the second is the simply result of fleas biting rodents who infect humans, yet it never gets into the sewers.

The second common error in belief put forth by the government is that gastroenteritis only causes diarrhea. In fact, it can lead to infections of the blood, brain, heart, respiratory, kidney, liver, bone, arthritis, etc.

The government is not about to admit liability. Too many kingdoms involved. What is going to happen is more laws will be created. The Agencies involved will ask for more money, more people, and more power and they still will not be able to find the cause of all these food and waterborne outbreaks. Therefore, the victims will be blamed for failing to wash their hands, failing to prevent cross contamination, and failing to properly cook food. On the other hand foreign produce may be blamed. In 1998, The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service estimates "the costs for medical treatment and productivity losses associated with these illnesses and deaths range from $6.6 billion to $37.1 billion."


  1. What's the basis for his claim that Salinas Valley lettuce and spinach are irrigated with reclaimed sewage effluent? My understanding is that is specifically prohibited by California law (reclaimed water can be used on some crops, like fruits and nuts, but not on direct-contact crops like field greens). The investigations mostly focused on cattle manure from nearby farms, and were trying to figure out how the bacteria migrated from there onto the spinach (wind, runoff, and wildlife were the primary suspects).

    His claim of "a policy to spread disease contaminated sludge on fruits and vegetables" suggests a bias. There is, of course, no such policy. I presume he refers to the use of composted municipal sewage treatment sludge as a soil amendment, which is certainly not without controversy. Has it actually been linked to any outbreaks of food-borne illness?

  2. @albionwood -- I'll leave Jim to your specific questions, but my understanding is that reclaimed water *is* used in the Valley. Not sure of the crops, nor of its quality...

  3. albionwood is partially right. The California Reclaimed Water Law has different "levels" of required treatment allowing so much coliform.

    I discuss this in "Wrong Focus by Scientists Should Be Next Inquiry!"

    albionwood is wrong about the policy. He can read EPA's 1981 policy "Land Application of Municipal Sludge for Production of Fruits and Vegetables: A Statement of Federal Policy and Guidance" (SW 905)

    He can also read about EPA's follow up study justifying the policy. National Academy of Science's (NAS) 1996 literary review report by its National Research Council (NRC) Committee "Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production"
    The NRC Book: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=5175
    A review: http://deadlydeceit.com/NAS-Review.html

    He can also read about the current 503.

    There are compost studies showing health effects other than food poisioning.
    Compost - Heat dried Sludge/biosolids - Soil Amendments

    Yes, I will admit to some bias. I hate to be lied too. Would you buy food from a farm that had both E. coli and Salmonella on it at over 800,000 colonies per hundred grams of soil?


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