The Oconee Enterprise, June 8, 2017:
Dr. David Lewis
At a public meeting in British Columbia, I recently listened to a senior engineer working for the municipality of Vancouver explain why soils contaminated with toxic chemicals from wastewater treatment plants pose no threat to public health. She emphasized that toxic chemicals are present only in trace amounts. She also explained that employees working at the plants have higher exposure levels than the public, and have not reported any ill effects.
To further support her position, she pointed to traces of ibuprofen, a common, over-the-counter pain-killer that ends up in solid wastes that Vancouver spreads on public and private lands in the area. She calculated it would take 37 thousand years for a worker to be exposed to municipal wastes to equal the amount of ibuprofen he would get by just swallowing a single capsule of the drug.
When it was my turn to speak, I explained how, as a microbiologist, I look at what’s happening at the microscopic level. Soils are composed of particles of organic matter and clay, which attract pharmaceuticals and other water-insoluble pollutants like a magnet. Their surfaces often contain these pollutants at hundreds of thousands, even millions, of times higher concentrations than they’re found in water or air.
Since disease begins at the cellular level, that’s a huge problem. With cancer, for example, consider what happens when a single dust particle coated with very high concentrations of some mutagenic or carcinogenic chemical is inhaled and sticks to a single cell in a person’s lungs. For someone to develop lung cancer, all it takes is for that one cell to be genetically damaged by the chemical and become malignant.
This is why lung cancer rates are so high in parts of the world where indoor wood-burning stoves are still commonly used for heating and cooking. The same is true of colon cancer among smokers who inhale and then swallow particles of tobacco smoke that are coated with high-concentrations of benzo-a-pyrene and other powerful carcinogens produced when burning tobacco.
The Canadian engineer viewed wastewater treatment plants and the people who work there much like water containers where toxic chemicals are harmlessly diluted out. I focused instead on what happens when they’re applied to land and become highly concentrated on soil particles that dry out and are distributed far and wide by wind. Each microscopic soil particle among untold trillions carried by the winds could potentially cause cancer or some other disease in someone who inhales it, or ingests it with the food they eat or water they drink. It’s another way of looking at the folly of Congress having passed Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, but no Clean Soil Act. In some ways, soil is the most important part of our environment to shield from pollution.
The opinions expressed are those of David Lewis, Research Director for the Focus for Health Foundation in Watchung, NJ (www.focusforhealth.org/davidlewis), author of Science for Sale (Skyhorse Publishing, NY) and CEO of Saxon Road Church Inc. in Watkinsville, Georgia.
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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.