Monday, March 28, 2016
Flush and You’re Dead!
If you don’t believe in evolution, well, you probably don’t read my blogs anyway, but if you are wondering about the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria – little nasty purveyors of pain, misery, and death – there’s a lot more to it than how they evolve. We know that folks who stop their trace of antibiotic treatments without finishing the full prescription give “clever” germs the ability to evolve against a weakened treatment option resulting in a new “bug” that is no longer impacted by that treatment. Once these superbugs form, it is very worthwhile to see how they spread.
We know that they love hospitals because of the myriad opportunities to grow, fester, infected weakened immune systems often found in hospitals, get into open surgical cavities, unhealed wounds and generally pass through instruments and surfaces with lots of chances to spread. But recent discoveries illustrate how germs find their way into the general environment, superbugs with startling mobility and infection potential… well beyond the human carriers they enlist in their deadly cause.
“Every day Southern California hospitals unleash millions of gallons of raw sewage into municipal sewers… The malodorous muck flows miles to one of the region's sewage plants, where it is treated with the rest of the area's waste and then released as clear water into a stream or directly to the Pacific.
“Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced they had discovered a lethal superbug — the same one that caused outbreaks at UCLA and two other Los Angeles-area hospitals — in sewage at one of those plants. They declined to name the facility…
“But a growing number of studies show sewage plants can't kill the superbugs. Instead the facilities serve as ‘a luxury hotel’ for drug-resistant bacteria, a place where they thrive and grow stronger, said Pedro Alvarez, a professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, one of the scientists studying the problem.
“Alvarez and other researchers say the failure of sewage plants to eliminate the dangerous bacteria is one way they may be spreading from hospitals to the environment… ‘Chlorine is just not doing it,’ Alvarez said of the treatment used by most plants.
“The fear is that healthy people otherwise not at risk from the bacteria — including swimmers at the beach — could be infected… Already officials are worried about the surprising number of people sickened with CRE [carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae] who have not recently visited a medical facility: 8%, according to an October study.
“Hospitals are not breaking laws by releasing the sewage. Laws regulate the overall level of disease-causing bacteria in the nation's surface waters, but there is no specific regulation of bacteria resistant to antibiotics… Deemed the ‘nightmare bacteria’ by federal officials, CRE survives nearly all antibiotics. It kills as many as half its victims.” Los Angeles Times, March 7th. And if you this this is only a Los Angeles-based problem, think again. California is ahead of the curve, but the issue is nationwide. And once the germs are out…
Generally, toxicity, in each of its forms, is a big issue across the nation and most certainly around the world. As the recent Democratic debates in Flint, Michigan emphasized, for example, drinking water is often contaminated by corroding lead, vestiges of very old water-pipe infrastructure build in a bygone era. And lead can cause serious medical problems, particularly in children, who are especially vulnerable.
According to a Texas A&M study: “[Over time, lead slowly] accumulates in the body and can cause lead poisoning. Even at low concentrations, when there are no outward symptoms, lead can damage the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Some effects of lead poisoning may diminish if the source of exposure is removed, but some damage is permanent.
“Symptoms of lead poisoning include tiredness, a short attention span, restlessness, poor appetite, constipation, headaches, sudden behavior change, vomiting and hearing loss. Adults with lead poisoning may be irritable and disoriented.
“Interestingly, most children with lead poisoning do not show any visible symptoms, even though young children, infants and fetuses absorb lead more quickly than adults and are vulnerable to even small amounts of it. Lead poisoning can cause a child’s mental and physical development to be irreversibly stunted.”
Estimates from both governmental sources to Fitch Ratings suggest that the cost to replace all those old lead water utility pipes range from $250 to $300 billion. When all of our infrastructure fixes are aggregated, the total costs exceed $2 trillion, money that is not remotely close to that level in any federal or state infrastructure budget. The numbers grow annually as “deferred maintenance” makes things much worse. In fact, we are seeing conservative legislators, state and federal, fighting to reduce budgets and mandates for environmental agencies, including the EPA, and limiting how much we re willing to invest to bring the United States infrastructure into the 21st century.
It really does come down to how much we care about ourselves and our future. We are stupidly living off the investments of past generations, apparently unwilling to continue such efforts under a notion of “fiscal responsibility.” But once again, our elected representatives do not seem to be able to differentiate between “spending” (which has no economic rate of return) and “investing” (generally, education, research and infrastructure) which does. We cannot make our nation “great again” without massive investment in those aspects of life that only a government can make, and there are no shortcuts or panaceas to the contrary.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we need to face up to reality or live with the consequences… which can be fatal.