Drug resistance might not be your doctor’s fault

This country’s sewage sludge – half of which is used to cover public and private lands where we live and work – contains extremely high levels of dangerous bacteria. Unfortunately, this type of waste is also made up of every type of antibiotic you could imagine. The combination can lead to a perfect storm of antibiotic resistance, and is making more people sick than the EPA wants to admit. Check out David Lewis’s new article “Don’t blame physicians for drug resistance” for more.

The Oconee Enterprise, November, 5 2015:

Don’t blame physicians for drug resistance

The CDC estimates more than 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths occur in the United States each year from antibiotic resistance. Although the CDC indicates that drug-resistant bacteria in animal manure used on food crops may be a major part of the problem, physicians get most of the blame for over-prescribing antibiotics. What the CDC doesn’t mention is land application of treated sewage sludges.

Sewage sludges contain very high levels of bacteria that cause some of the most common and deadly infections. They are associated with foodborne illnesses, contracted in swimming pools, locker rooms, other community settings, and picked up in hospitals. They include, for example, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, C. difficile, and Salmonella. The problem is that sewage sludges also contain every antibiotic used, along with heavy metals and other chemical and biological agents know to promote antibiotic resistance.

Over half of all the sewage sludge produced in the United States is applied to farms, school playgrounds, athletic fields, home gardens and other public and private lands where we live and work. Unfortunately, the ability of wastewater treatment plants to reduce pathogen levels is only temporary. Any traces of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that survive can re-proliferate when biosolids, which are rich in fats and proteins, are stored and applied to land. It’s the same thing that happens when cooked foods are not properly refrigerated.

Dr. Lewis’ article posted in The Oconee Enterprise – Click to enlarge 2015_11_6 don't blame physicians for drug resistance _ wastewater solids

Is it even possible to devise a better system than this for rendering antibiotics useless? As a research microbiologist and expert on infection control, I can’t image one. It’s insane to collect sewage containing blood, urine and feces from millions of infected patients treated with antibiotics, dispose of outdated or unused antibiotics in sewers, and then spread tons of these wastes on everything from golf courses to hospital grounds. It’s a cheap way for municipalities and industry to dispose of outdated or unused antibiotics in sewers, and then spread tons of these wastes on everything from golf courses to hospital grounds. It’s a cheap way for municipalities and industry to dispose of hazardous chemical and biological wastes; but it’s having an insidious impact on public health.

In 2003, two EPA Assistant Administrators wrote a letter to CDC Director Julie Gerberding asking her to help EPA investigate growing number of illnesses linked to land application of biosolids. EPA’s request, however, was disingenuous. After meeting with industry executives to discuss how to discredit my research, EPA terminated me for documenting biosolids-related infections in the scientific literature.

Several years later, a federal judge also ruled that a study EPA and the University of Georgia published in 2003 to discredit my research contained fabricated data. Gerberding and the two EPA administrators have since taken leadership positions with pharmaceutical and environmental companies.

Industry influences has taken its toll on the integrity of government employees who place their personal career goals above the public interest. Along the way, physicians have become scapegoats for millions of illnesses and deaths as federal bureaucrats in bed with the very industries taxpayers pay them to oversee look the other way.

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David Lewis, Ph.D.

Former U.S. EPA Research Microbiologist

David Lewis is an internationally recognized research microbiologist whose work on public health and environmental issues, as a senior-level Research Microbiologist in EPA’s Office of Research & Development and member of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia, has been reported in numerous news articles and documentaries from TIME magazine and Reader’s Digest to National Geographic.

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