Guest Column – Reused water poses risks

Dr. Edo McGowan, Dr. Edo McGowan, and Dr. Edo McGowan

In walking around the campus, I noted signs saying something like this: “use of reclaimed sewage water for irrigation. Do not drink.”

My area, although here as an art student, is medical geo-hydrology, the study of infectious disease, survival of pathogens in the environment, and hence their consequent impacts to man.

Contrary to popular myth, sewer plants, like the one supplying the campus with irrigation water, fail to kill pathogens.

Actually, the process of sewage treatment augments the levels of antibiotic resistance and virulence within pathogens.

The currently-used water quality laboratory tests, as demanded by governmental standards, fail to accurately reflect the true extent of contained pathogens.

This gives those operating such treatment works a false sense of security.

Additionally, many of those operating these plants are insufficiently trained to perceive these shortcomings. The state’s licensing authority requires no expertise in these matters.

Further, sewer plants as currently designed and operated cannot effectively filter out pharmaceuticals including antibiotics, so impressive levels wind up in the treated wastewater – all delivered to the campus.

This fact then further exacerbates the levels of microbes that are likely to have gained antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance threatens community health. The World Health Organization considers this a global crisis.

Spray irrigation will create aerosols. Down-wind drift for bacteria and viruses can be extensive.

This then brings us to the question of how well thought out all this use of reclaimed water actually is.

Even if pure water were now supplied via these same pink pipes, there is the chance that biofilms have been established within the pipes and these will continue to grow and shed pathogens once the pipes are contaminated.

In one classic case, a hospital’s distilled water system became somehow contaminated by a biofilm.

That water had been used for preparation of IV solutions. The system could not be cleared by any method attempted and the end saw the entire system ripped out and thus replaced-very expensive.

Tests have been run on this water and show high bacterial counts.

Thus, the question that comes to mind is one of further investigation of this issue and what are the longer-term impacts to the student body and staff on the campus?

Since there is aerosol drift as well as storm water runoff, the surrounding areas are thus susceptible to contamination.

These issues as presented herein need to be resolved as rapidly as possible. There is a very large body within the peer-reviewed literature to back up and verify the above.

For those interested in pursuing this in more detail, I would be happy to meet on the subject.

Please contact me at [email protected]