but will it give us superpowers?

by twit

It looks like there has been “widespread contamination” of the American food supply over the past 30 years, with arsenic, toxic heavy metals, PCBs, you name the nastiness and it may have found its way into milk, corn, beef, basically anything raised on a farm that has accepted the government’s idea of cheap fertilizer.

On March 6, 2008, the Associated Press reports on an ongoing “30-year government policy that encourages farmers to spread millions of tons of sewage sludge over thousands of acres each year as an alternative to commercial fertilizers.”

Why are we spreading sewage sludge instead of commercial fertilizers? “Giving it away to farmers is cheaper than burning or burying it, and the government’s policy has been to encourage the former.”


Also, the government has been claiming that the sewage sludge is safe to use. However, in a recent lawsuit, a judge found “along with using the questionable data, “senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent, and any questioning of EPA’s biosolids program,” and that the sewage plant in the case “was sending out hundreds of truckloads of sludge daily with dangerously high levels of cadmium, molybdenum and chlordane.”

Here’s how the contamination started to come to light:

Boyce told the AP that in January 1999 he informed Georgia dairy regulators and EPA that tests he had ordered on the milk from his cows had come back showing high levels of thallium, molybdenum and cadmium.

A top state official alerted the Food and Drug Administration, but Boyce said no one ever told him to stop selling his milk or mentioned a possible threat to public health.

“We were a little startled,” Boyce recalled. “They concluded that our permit was good, and we could continue to sell milk. So we did.”

EPA lists thallium as a toxic heavy metal that can cause gastrointestinal irritation and nerve damage, but the agency has no standard on the metal’s presence in milk. Neither does the Agriculture Department, even though it regards thallium as one of the most dangerous agents of potential bioterrorism against the nation’s food supply.

State and EPA officials followed up by testing Boyce’s milk, but he said they wouldn’t share all their results with him or McElmurray. There is no evidence that those officials took any further action. Boyce said he decided finally to reveal the milk contamination to the AP to illuminate a broader issue.

While folks in the midst of the discovered contamination wanted to test milk entering the food supply, at this point, you can probably guess what actually happened:

Charles Murphy, then head of Georgia’s dairy program, said he notified FDA’s Administration’s office in Atlanta of Boyce’s contaminated samples. “I know I talked to them some, shared some of that information with them,” he recalled. “I don’t think they sent anybody out.”

Murphy said he was persuaded by evidence provided to him by Boyce and McElmurray to seek broader state testing of dairy cows, but there wasn’t enough money.

The testing that has been done suggests that widespread contamination is a distinct possibility:

Boyce and McElmurray insist they shared all of their data with the two EPA officials, including separate tests they ran on milk pulled from store shelves in Charleston, S.C. That milk, which came from other farms in the Southeast, suggested more widespread contamination, they said.

It seems doubtful that the contamination is limited to the cases that have come to light.

About 7 million tons of biosolids – the term that waste producers came up with for sludge in 1991 – are produced each year as a byproduct from 1,650 waste water treatment plants around the nation.

Slightly more than half is used on land as fertilizer…

Proceeding from the assumption that sewage sludge by definition contains things we don’t want to consume, it seems unlikely that the contamination could possibly be limited to the instances described in the Associated Press report.

UPDATE: Especially when the EPA has such a stellar track record identifying and tracking potential environmental risks to human health.

From the Associated Press on March 9, 2008 via My Way News:

A vast array of pharmaceuticals – including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones – have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

… The federal government doesn’t require any testing and hasn’t set safety limits for drugs in water.

… the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

… And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies – which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public – have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

… pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females.

… Another issue: There’s evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic…

… There’s growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs – or combinations of drugs – may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day.

Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage.

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