beaches submerged in recent flooding left water contaminated
Eric LaMont Gregory
As helicopters spray, what is porported to be bleach - sodium hypochorite - on Caesar Creek and surrounding lakes and beaches to contain high levels of the bacterium Escherichia coli, commonly abbreviated E. coli, some are asking how did this human health threat come about?
In part it is a result of the fact that the larger animal factories today generate as much waste as the human sewage from a large metropolitan area, but, incredibly, they do not have to handle and treat their sewage the way municipalities do.
To the folks who make a living spreading manure on farm fields, the business end of hogs, cows and chickens as well as humans and even pets can be a gold mine. More than 1.3 million tons of manure is applied as fertilizer each year to about 16 million acres of farmland in the United States.
Manure is used as fertilizer on about 5 percent of US cropland. The other 95% is treated with chemical fertilizers. Corn, which is planted on about one-quarter of all US farmland, covers more than half of the acres treated with manure. This accounts for its widespeard use in Ohio.
The use of manure is however is not without risk. And, the public is right to be concerned and must insist that the manure spreading industry demonstrate to the public it has improved its technology and techniques to prevent runoff and other problems.
Whereas, it is possible to show there are improvements in technology and techniques, and the industry has a lot of glossy brochures to prove it, there are two other factors in the equation that are not so certain.
One, important factor is the unpredictability of weather, and the second and probably the most important is the human factor, that is, the risks associated with when the fields are speard after the snow melts, and in unusually high rainy periods.
Both of these factors require a lot of judgement and are ultimately decided in relation to the bottom line and not potential health risks.
Which is why helicopters are spraying Cowan Lake and surrounding Lakes and beaches to prevent a massive health problem.
Most strains of E coli are harmless or even useful, however certain strains of E. coli, such as O157:H7, O104:H4, O121, O26, and others, produce potentially lethal toxins. Food poisoning caused by E. coli usually results from eating unwashed vegetables or undercooked meat. O157:H7 is also notorious for causing serious and even life-threatening complications and is linked to the 2006 E coli outbreak in fresh spinach.
Local waters and beaches will continue to be tested at Caesar Lake and two neighboring state parks in southwest Ohio to see if there are still the troublesome levels of bacteria that led to current beach advisories.
Signs are posted at Caesar Creek State Park and Cowan Lake State Park about E. coli bacteria in the water that exceeded state standards, the bacteria can cause headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and dizziness.
The advisories will remain in place, according to park officials, until tests comes back normal, that is, tests come back within state standards; normal?
Why question the use of the word normal. The use of the word normal suggests that there is always some harmful bacteria in the water and on the beaches, but someone has determined that there is an acceptable level that poses little if any threat to public health. The problem with such beliefs is that the public population is varied; young, old, and in various states of health. What might not pose a threat to one group of middle aged adults could be lethal for a young child or an elderly person.
So what normal is usually the result of a decision by a committee representing varied interests, and if the committee itself is not varied it will be influenced by a varied public whose interests themselvs are varied.
Hence, therefore, what normal is or what it means can only be known by knowing the facts, and not by blindly following statements by government officials that things have returned to a committee's determined standards of normal.
If E coli turns out to be the biological threat posed in this crisis? - the government will rather quickly signal the all clear, that is, someone will issue a statement that the threat has passed.
As citizens, we can only hope that it is not the Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke telling us that the Fed's policy is to keep the dollar strong, when the Fed's actual policy is to de-value the dollar to spur US exports.