Sewage Mismanagement Compounding Epidemic

What happens when people and animals are exposed to infectious waste? High winds in dry places such as Arizona and California have become toxic events thanks to the reckless practice of dumping sewage sludge on land. These powerful dust storms now carry lethal doses of pathogens, which are swept away after being dumped on farms, ranches, parks, gardens and golf courses. Thanks to the deadly dumping policies, these poisonous particulates are now contributing to a broad spectrum of respiratory and neurological ailments, including the dreaded valley fever, autism and Alzheimer’s disease.

Prior to the 1990s, valley fever was a fairly rare disease. However, thanks to the U.S. EPA’s reckless science and policies, the desert and other regions across America began filling with sewage sludge around 1993. The sewage (also known as biosolids) brought in a host of toxins, and pathogens, including radionuclides, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, dioxins, fungus, bacteria, prions and other threats to public health. The nitrogen and carbon in the sewage sludge also is a super fuel  for the cocci fungus in the sand and soil that caused many of the original cases of valley fever. The sludge also provides a new medium to transport the toxic mold spores far and wide. Thanks to infectious waste, so-called “valley fever” is caused by much more than just the cocci fungus.

land application sewage sludge

Thanks to the U.S. EPA’s reckless policies regarding the land application of sewage sludge, toxins and pathogens that aren’t soaked up by plants, streams and rivers are now swept up by windstorms and dumped over cities and communities, including Phoenix, Tucson and Bakersfield. Waves of sickness and death follow in each storm’s wake. Valley fever kills more than 100 people per year just in Maricopa County (Phoenix metropolitan area). The death dust includes much more than just the cocci fungus.

Some estimate that there are about 150,000 cases of valley fever every year just in the U.S. Only forty percent of the people infected are symptomatic. Even fewer seek treatment because milder symptoms are difficult to distinguish from the flu. Therefore, the actual scope of the epidemic is merely a guess.

Two-thirds of all valley fever cases that are diagnosed in the world are contracted in Arizona, where valley fever has been at epidemic levels since the state began keeping records in 1997. Today, there about 50,000 known new cases in Arizona each year. More than half of those cases are in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. Bakersfield, California is another hotspot, which is where Los Angeles dumps most of its sewage sludge. Valley fever is on the rise in California and elsewhere. (Update: California recorded the largest-ever number of cases in 2016. California had 5,372 new cases of valley fever last year, more than a 70 percent increase over the previous year, the state Department of Public Health said. Counties in the Central Valley where valley fever is common saw more people who were sick with the potentially deadly disease. Last year’s statewide count was similar to a surge of 5,213 cases in 2011, which was then the largest count since the disease became reportable in 1995).

Outside of these hotspots, valley fever goes undiagnosed because doctors don’t know what they are dealing with. However, the TV commercials for Prevnar 13 is an indication of how widespread the problem has become. Prevnar 13 vaccine is used to prevent infection caused by pneumococcal bacteria. The vaccine contains 13 different types of pneumococcal bacteria (in hopes of raising your resistance to infectious waste). Pneumococcal disease is a serious infection caused by a bacteria. Pneumococcal bacteria can infect the sinuses and inner ear. It can also infect the lungs, blood, and brain, and these conditions can be fatal.

“We refer to that area as the Valley Fever Corridor,” said Dr. John Galgiani, who directs the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

That’s a polite way of describing the danger zone. The desert regions of Arizona and California are buried in sewage dumped from places such as Phoenix, Tucson, Oceanside and Orange County, California. Thanks to these industrial-scale sewage dumps, dust storms carry much more than soil and sand. These microscopic sewage particulates are inhaled. Those that aren’t settle in homes, offices, gardens, streams, rivers, lakes, and beyond where they can do their damage at a later time. These particulates are so toxic that they are killing people, animals, landscaping and more as they settle in highly populated communities and rural ones alike.

sewage treatment and disease

In 2008, the Arizona State Department of Health Services claimed valley fever as “Arizona’s Disease.” In 2012, valley fever was the second-most-reported disease in the state even though only about two percent of all cases are diagnosed and treated.

“If Arizona doesn’t do something about valley fever, no one will,” said Rebecca Sunenshine, MD, Epidemiologist from the Centers for Disease Control.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes valley fever as a silent epidemic because the number of cases has been increasing by about 15 percent per year. Even its conservative count has grown tenfold since 1998. It counted 2,265 cases in 1998 and more than 22,000 in 2011. Public awareness and aversion efforts have not gone up accordingly. The surge might be much larger because some states, including Texas, do not require public reporting of confirmed cocci cases. Valley fever is endemic in Texas along the Rio Grande River.

Symptoms of valley fever include fever, respiratory distress with coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath. Other common symptoms include muscle and joint aches, a skin rash, weight loss and lack of appetite and intense fatigue. A small subset of patients will suffer long-term health problems; in fewer still, cocci will disseminate from the lungs into other tissue—skin, bones, and, often fatally, the meninges of the brain. For those with cocci meningitis, the treatment can include a series of painful injections into the neck and spinal cord.

Though it sickens many times more people than West Nile virus (also caused by sewage sludge), which affects much of the country, it has received only a small fraction of the funding for research.

“The impact of valley fever on its endemic populations is equal to the impact of polio or chicken pox before the vaccines,” said Galgiani. “But chicken pox and polio were worldwide threats.” (so is valley fever)

In July 2013, The New Yorker quoted a Bakersfield physician who described it as “a hundred different diseases,” depending on which toxin is inhaled and where the infection rests. Fortunately, cocci cannot spread from person to person, but other forms of sickness caused by sewage mismanagement are a different story.

The elderly and the immune-compromised—including pregnant women—are most susceptible; for unknown reasons, otherwise healthy African-Americans and Filipinos are disproportionately vulnerable to severe and life-threatening forms of the disease. (In one early study, Filipino men were estimated to be a hundred and seventy-five times as likely as white men to get sick from cocci, and a hundred and ninety-two times as likely to die from it.) Official statistics do not include animals such as dogs, cats, horses and wild animals that have been stricken. Dogs are hit the hardest.

biosolids threaten public health

Valley Fever History

Valley Fever derives its name from its discovery in the San Joaquin Valley of California, where it was also referred to as “San Joaquin Valley Fever” or “Desert Rheumatism.” The medical name for Valley Fever is coccidioidomycosis (often shortened to “cocci” caused by the fungus coccidioides, which usually enters the lungs of victims.

Area of Distribution:

  • Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico.
  • San Joaquin and Central Valleys of California
  • Southern Arizona (especially in the Phoenix and Tucson areas).
  • Southern parts of Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Western Texas (especially around El Paso)
  • Mexico (in the states of Sonora and Chihuahua).
  • Also found in semiarid and arid soils of Central and South America.

Valley fever is a fungal infection caused by coccidioides (kok-sid-e-OY-deze) organisms that enter your lungs. In soil, C. immitis exists in chains of barrel-shaped units called arthroconidia; airborne, these fragment easily into lightweight spores. C. immitis is adapted to lodge deep: its spores are small enough to reach the end of the bronchioles at the bottom of the lungs. We can breathe them in, but we can’t breathe them out.

Valley fever victims

Once in the lung, the spore circles up into a spherule, defined by a chitinous cell wall and filled with a hundred or so baby endospores. When the spherule is sufficiently full, it ruptures, releasing the endospores and stimulating an acute inflammatory response that disrupts blood flow to the tissue and can lead to necrosis. The endospores, each of which will become a new spherule, travel through the blood and lymph systems, allowing the cocci to spread anywhere the wind takes it. In people with weakened immune systems, cocci can overwhelm their bodies.

cocci victim symptoms

The first recorded case of cocci involved a soldier in Argentina in 1891. Ulcerated, cauliflower-like nodes deformed his face. Doctors initially thought that he had an infectious form of cancer. Two years later, doctors in the San Joaquin Valley saw their first case in a field worker. He was blinded by lesions on his face and riddled with abscesses. Unfortunately, this case would not be the last.

“In the nineteen-fifties, both the U.S. and Russia had bio-warfare programs using cocci,” said John Galgiani at the University of Arizona. “Generals can’t control agents that rely on air currents to disperse them, and it was difficult to use the vector precisely, so it fell out of favor. But terrorists don’t care about control—all they care about is perception. A single cell can cause disease, and you can genetically modify it to make it more powerful.”

Arizona also has one of the highest rates of Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by a deadly form of protein called a prion. Prions also are in wastewater and unstoppable in wastewater treatment plants. When sewage particles are swept into the air, so are the highly contagious prions.

Parts of neighboring California, especially the San Joaquin Valley, also have produced a steady flow of valley fever victims since the early 1990s. Ironically, this is after rural America became an industrial-scale sewage dump thanks to the EPA’s controversial new sludge rule. The sludge rule opened the floodgates to sewage contamination in our watersheds and communities. Other nations have followed the same policies on wastewater treatment and sewage sludge disposal because of their trust in the U.S. government. The sludge rule has been crammed down the world’s throat along with tons of deadly sewage.

sewage treatment plant

Infectious Sewage Sludge Connected To Many Diseases.

In addition to the fungi behind valley fever, windstorms can carry other pathogens from sewage and inject them into our daily lives. Wastewater treatment can’t stop prions or most other pathogens, which means that they thrive in wastewater treatment plants, sewage sludge, reclaimed water and effluent. Applying sewage to cocci growth sites is not a good idea. Cocci requires moisture, carbon and nitrogen, which sewage provides.

Other examples of recently emerging and reemerging soil-borne pathogens include clostridium, spp. bacteria, which cause a variety of diseases and are likely a permanent soil resident, transmitted by the fecal-oral route and through skin trauma; Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium, which causes listeriosis and is a permanent soil resident transmitted by contact with soil contaminated with infective feces and also by inhalation of the organism; Sin Nombre virus, a hantavirus, which causes hemorrhagic fever, is a transient soil resident, and is transmitted by inhalation of dust containing aerosolized rodent urine and feces; rotavirus spp., which causes diarrhea and enteritis, an incidental or less commonly, transient soil resident, transmitted by the fecal-soil-oral route also by the fecal-respiratory route; and, as stated above, prion disease, which includes Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mad cow disease and many other neurological diseases.

Wastewater treatment technology also fails to keep radionuclides, carcinogens, pharmaceuticals and other poisons, including the coccidioides (cocci) fungi out of the sludge produced in the process. Thanks to sewage mismanagement, we’re injecting these pathogens directly into our lifecycle on an industrial scale. As such, valley fever, Alzheimer’s, autism and other maladies have become industrial diseases as pathways are expanding daily.

All sewage toxins are capable of going airborne once the sludge is dried and agitated into fine particles. Once airborne, the smallest of particles can travel thousands of miles. Unfortunately, the EPA failed to account for prions when it faked its science on the safety of biosolids. The EPA also failed to account for airborne pathways. Such oversights are reckless and incompetent at best. Given the damage that is stacking, and the lack of responsiveness from government and industry, modern sewage dumps are an aggressive form of bioterrorism.

Today, U.S. industry alone uses more than 60,000 chemicals. Most of them find their way into the sewer system and municipal sludge. These chemicals interact to form new chemicals, which can be even more toxic than the original form. These toxins and a deadly list of pathogens are all contaminating our food, water and air. Some are more deadly than others. Thanks to government collusion, many industries are making a killing.

We may not know the full scope of valley fever because some physicians don’t think of testing for the infection in patients with common flu-like symptoms (fever and cough, fatigue, headache, rash, muscle aches and joint pain). A 2010 survey by the New Mexico public health department revealed that 69 percent of clinicians responding did not consider valley fever in patients with respiratory problems. If you live in or visit an area where the fungus is found and develop persistent flu-like symptoms, ask your physician to test for cocci.

A study by the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona shows that two-thirds of patients with valley fever in Arizona were misdiagnosed. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control in 2006, one in three Arizona patients diagnosed with pneumonia and treated with antibiotics may be misdiagnosed and treated with the wrong drugs. The federal report said the patients may have had a valley fever, a fungal pneumonia, although most of the patients were managed as if they had a bacterial infection with antibiotics. Valley Fever is caused by a fungus and would not be treated by drugs directed at bacteria, according to the Arizona center’s study.

biosolids dangers and risks

Valley Fever Outbreaks In California

California’s San Joaquin Valley is another hot spot for valley fever. Kern County and the Bakersfield area are ground zero for the disease. Kern County also is where Los Angeles dumps the majority of its sewage. The highest rate of infection is in Antelope Valley, a rapidly developing outpost of the county that adjoins the southern edge of the San Joaquin Valley. In the past decade, the number of cases there has increased 545 percent.

The community of Antelope Valley has seen its population double in thirty years. It has been transformed from a sleepy agricultural zone to a dense residential area. Fields that once grew alfalfa now grow residential developments. New families have moved into the neighborhood. Many are vulnerable to the threat of valley fever.

As it turns out, the San Joaquin Valley is a hot spot for clusters of valley fever. According to the CDC, during 1991, reported cases of Coccidioidomycosis (i.e., valley fever) in California increased more than three-fold over the annual number of cases reported since 1986; during 1992, the number of reported cases increased 10-fold.

In 1991, 1208 new cases of coccidioidomycosis were reported to the California Department of Health Services (CDHS), compared with an average of 450 cases per year during the previous 5 years. Of these cases, 959 (80%) were reported from Kern County, where coccidioidomycosis is known to be endemic and where the county health department serves as a referral laboratory for coccidioidomycosis serologic tests. Kern County also is where California once dumped much of its sewage sludge.

In the years leading up to the 2006, one third of California’s sewage sludge was applied to land in Kern County. Orange County, Los Angeles County, Oxnard and Ventura all sent their sludge to Kern County. On June 6, 2006, the Kern County ballot initiative to ban sludge application passed with 85 percent of the vote.

Antje Lauer, an environmental microbiologist who teaches at the university in Bakersfield, has been tracking the issues for years. In an article in The New Yorker by Dana Goodyear, she explained that the arthroconidia fungus is notoriously hard to find in the ground. A spot that tests positive once may subsequently come up negative; a positive site can be separated from a negative one by a matter of yards. Little is known about where the fungus thrives and why. Several years ago, Lauer began trying to discern some pattern to its presence. Initially, she said,

“I just drove around Bakersfield and used my intuition. I sampled here, I sampled there.” On Coles Levee Road, a desolate strip owned by Los Angeles County, which uses part of it as a sewage dump, she found the fungus nearly every time she looked, she explained to the reporter.

Another California outbreak happened in 1994 in Ventura County following an earthquake that struck the region. During the two months after the earthquake, 170 people were diagnosed with acute coccidioidomycosis because of the airborne dust. During all of 1993, there were only 52 cases reported in the county.

Thanks to the EPA’s infamous sewage sludge rule of 1993, Americans are choking on sewage and dying as a result. Parts of Arizona and California are feeling the brunt of the epidemic, but sewage is being dumped on open land from coast to coast. Arizona not only dumps its own sewage sludge on crops, parks, school grounds, golf courses and gardens, it imports tons of it from California, too.

The sewage sludge is dumped on crops throughout rural regions and open spaces in metropolitan areas, including city golf courses in the Phoenix metropolitan area. I can personally attest that sewage sludge from the Encina Wastewater Authority in Carlsbad, California is being trucked across state lines, where it is dumped within 50 feet of private residences. The toxic crap is being peddled under the name “Pure Green.”

The dose put on the Ken McDonald Golf Course in May 2015 killed massive sections of the fairways for months. It killed landscaping in my backyard that borders the 17th hole. Who knows what damage was done to local residents, pets and wildlife. It’s dumped without consent and without notice. It’s bioterrorism. These “dirty bombs” are being dropped around us every day. The dumping of mass quantities of infectious waste is killing people around the world.

If you live in or visit areas where valley fever is common, take common sense precautions, especially during the dry, dusty summer months when the chance of infection is highest. Consider wearing a mask, staying inside during dust storms, wetting the soil before digging, and keeping doors and windows tightly closed.

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Earth News is a division of Crossbow Communications. Earth News is a syndicated environmental news service. The company covers a variety of health and environmental issues, including biodiversity, chronic wasting disease, climate change, deforestation, endangered species, global warming, neurodegenerative disease, neurotoxins, wildlife conservation and more.