On Marco Island: Independent Reporting, Documenting Government Abuses, Exposing the Syndicate, Historical Records of Crimes Against the Environment

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sewer vs. Septic - Hysterics Redux

With the latest posting by the city of a taken out-of-context report, it would do everyone well to consider how the scientific community works in this regard.

A hypothesis is put forward. Funding is obtained to conduct the research. Years of research is formulated into a "paper". This "paper" is presented to a peer-reviewed journal for validation of the methods and for ensuring that the conclusions are substantiated by the facts presented therein and by generally accepted scientific principles and the body of knowledge contained therein.

But from one that has done this repeatedly, both as an author/researcher and peer-reviewer, there are issues with this process. The first problem is when lay people take these reports out of context, or simply post as-is, for political purposes - as the city has just done.

The second problem is that in many cases, there is another "paper" or report that contradicts the new study. For those of you following the idiocy on diet and health then you are already aware of the myriad papers decrying salt, cholesterol, fat, air, water and a plethora of other benign foodstuffs we consume. All while there are other reports vindicating salt, cholesterol, fat, air, water and everything else. Sugar is latest bugaboo that causes diabetes and arthritis - contradicted by long available information that the world's largest producer and consumer per capita of sugar pre-1959 had virtually no incidence of diabetes or arthritis.

This second problem stems from bad science, politicized science (global warming is a perfect example), and from the first problem described above.

As to the latest throw-it-up-and-see-if-it-sticks sham from the city: The report is preliminary. It has yet to undergo peer review. The Florida Keys is a completely different environmental, oceanic and geographic place from Marco Island. The soil and earth layers are as different from Marco Island as night is to day. The human influence is markedly different. The keys have been regulated for decades - so much so that many infrastructure improvements have been thwarted. The death of Florida Bay at the hands of both fertilizer run-off and from choking the water flow from the north due to unbridled development (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties) is a direct influence. The list of differences is nearly endless.

And for those that don't want to listen to a scientist that uses these very same data and that has lived in S. Florida all of his life to witness the evolution of man and his environment, here is something to further fuel the hysteria.


NOAA/NOS, Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston, SC
School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
South Carolina Department of health and Environmental Control, Columbia, SC
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, MRRI, Charleston, SC
School of Public Health., University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Clemson Institute for Environmental Toxicology, Clemson University, Clemson, SC

Discharges of wastewater from sewage treatment plants (STPs), septic tanks, farm animal operations (FMOs), urbanization and wildlife pollution sources may adversely affect estuarine water quality, often closing shellfish beds for harvesting and downgrading water quality classification in rivers and streams.

Development of methods for differentiating human versus wildlife coliform bacterial sources is needed to properly manage bacterial pollution emanating from different sources. Several methods for differentiating human and wildlife coliform bacterial sources were evaluated including Multiple Antibiotic Resistance (MAR), Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE), and Ribotyping (RT). Water samples were collected from several river and estuarine watersheds in SC and selected pollution sources (STPs, septic tanks, FMOs, and wildlife). Samples were enumerated for fecal coliform bacterial densities (MPNs or MF) and E. coli were isolated by API biotyping. Samples were then analyzed by MAR, PFGE, and RT. Adjoining land use in several areas was further analyzed by GIS and multivariate statistics to predict significant land use metrics affecting fecal coliform densities and to identify human pollution sources. Results indicated that the % of E. coli comprising the coliform group and MAR was highest at sewage treatment plants and in urban areas adjoining sites with septic tanks or influenced by sewer discharges. Wildlife areas had negative MARs or resistance to only a single antibiotic and a lower % of E. coli. PFGE and RT provided DNA differentiation of bacterial pollution sources. Multivariate statistics and GIS provided methods to locate human pollution sources, identify land metrics affecting coliform MPNs and quantify presumptive Total Maximum Daily Load estimates of fecal coliform sources in shellfish harvesting areas. These findings indicate that these methods may be helpful in identifying different sources of fecal coliform bacteria.

Read the red carefully. This just-published and peer-reviewed report substantiated by quite sophisticated techniques says something quite different.

So once again - for every report that says one thing, there is another that says something else. While you should not expect the honesty from this present governance to produce all reports on this issue, by now you should know that you need to get the complete picture yourself - that is, for those of you that actually consume what the present governance propogandizes.

A final suggestion - read everything - even if you don't agree with it. To do otherwise fuels ignorance.


  • Biologists fingerprint bacteria
    to find source of water contamination

    The greatest single threat to water quality in coastal waters is fecal contamination -- and the culprits, in the case of Virginia's Eastern Shore, often are not human.

    In the last several years, there have been many closings of tidal creeks to shellfish harvest because of high levels of contamination. "People couldn't figure out why this was occurring," says Virginia Tech Biology Professor George Simmons. "They thought it was human waste getting into groundwater.

    "But, contamination was happening even where there were no houses or only a few houses with well-designed septic tanks. So where were the E. coli coming from?"

    Virginia Tech researchers led by Simmons are measuring the presence of the bacterium, Escherichia coli, known commonly as E. coli, to establish water quality -- and are 'DNA fingerprinting' the bacteria to trace them to their source.

    Simmons explains, "We use E. coli because it occurs in the intestinal tract of all warm-blooded animals (including humans) and it can be cultured and grown easily. If we find E. coli in water, there is a suggestion that we have fecal contamination and that other, more dangerous organisms such as viruses, bacteria, or protozoa may be present. So, if you find high levels of E. coli, you must close areas to shellfish harvesting, for example."

    As well as being an indicator of other more harmful contamination, E. coli itself can be harmful. "There are some pretty bad strains that can cause anything from a mild stomach upset to death. Some strains are hemorraghic (cause internal bleeding)," Simmons says.

    Contamination becomes extremely critical when talking about water quality in areas where shellfish are grown or harvested. Shellfish filter water, so contaminants like bacteria, viruses, and protozoa become concentrated in them. To be safe, shellfish must grow in extremely clean water.

    Simmons and colleagues, including students, discovered that there have been dramatic increases in the populations of certain species of wildlife, many of which are active on the edge of the marsh. "The animals defecate there, then water covers their scat (feces) and the scat goes back out with the tide and contaminates the water."

    Simmons, an Alumni Distinguished Professor, started looking for the source of coastal water contamination in 1990, working on a ground water project on the Eastern shore.

    "When we first started, we were looking for leaky septic tanks," he says. "We thought if people fixed them, the problem would go away. But we couldn't find any leaks. So I started doing some basic field biology, going out and looking at the contaminated areas and designing experiments.

    "I was working with a man who had a clam bed that had very high levels of E. coli. It was not from a septic tank. So, out of desperation, I covered the groundwater seeps (areas about the size of a bathtub where groundwater goes down into the water table). I made a sort of tent out of clam netting, a very fine mesh. The E. coli count went to almost zero in the seeps.

    "I had found I could manipulate the E. coli count directly. Then I knew animals were using the groundwater seep areas to defecate," Simmons reports. "But we needed to know which animals were using them."

    He had to learn what various scat deposits look like - deer, water fowl, raccoon, etc. By examining the scat, he found raccoon was dominant in the area of study.

    "A man was about to lose his clam bed because of contamination. I showed him the data and said he must take some raccoons off his farm. He removed about 100, and about six months later the creek was reopened and another creek that bordered his land that was about to be closed was saved from closing," Simmons reports. The clam-bed owner has hired a trapper full time to keep the fur-bearing populations down around the marshes in the vicinity of the clam beds.

    "One reason fur-bearing animals are such a problem is that no one traps them anymore," says Simmons. "An old oysterman told me that when he was a child, every kid trapped raccoons during the winter. Now, they don't do it anymore."

    While Simmons' research made clear the need to control the raccoon population in one area, the same research can help preserve wildlife in other areas.

    "The field work was very strong on the Eastern Shore. High E. coli counts in natural areas mean you have one or more animal populations out of control. But what if you go to a place that has a high count and nobody knows where it's coming from?"

    Simmons' group decided to collect scat from known animals such as goose, raccoon, muskrat, and deer. "Everybody thought waterfowl were causing the contamination and wanted to shoot the birds. But we exonerated this whole group of wildlife. It wasn't waterfowl.

    "Everybody has an opinion. But if we don't have data, everybody's opinion is valid," Simmons points out. So the Virginia Tech researchers started building a library of E. coli DNA from animals. They collect scat, grow E. coli, and genetically fingerprint the E. coli from the different animals by analyzing the E. coli DNA.

    "It's expensive and time consuming to check water quality this way. It takes about a week to develop a DNA fingerprint and costs about $1,000 per sample," he explains. "But we have 15 or 20 animals' DNA now, including humans. In geographic areas where the field data is lacking or weak, DNA technology may be the only option to solve a water quality problem."

    By Anonymous Mario Sanchez, at Tuesday, July 24, 2007 7:29:00 PM  

  • Coastal Water Contamination Increases with Population

    The increase in coastal area population is directly correlated to an increase in contaminated waters and shellfish bed closings. Over 85 percent of all beach closures and advisories in 2004, over 19,950 days, were a result of excessive counts of bacteria in the beach waters.

    The increase in coastal area population is directly correlated to an increase in contaminated waters and shellfish bed closings, according to University of North Carolina Wilmington Research Professor Michael A. Mallin.

    In his article “Wading in Waste,” which appears in the June 2006 issue of Scientific American, Mallin pointed to a recent study which has shown that over 85 percent of all beach closures and advisories in 2004, over 19,950 days, were a result of excessive counts of bacteria in the beach waters.

    Living in Wilmington, N.C., Mallin has seen firsthand a boom in population and the development that comes with an increasing popularity of costal areas. Large areas of farmland, forests and wetlands are being turned into resorts, strip malls, restaurants, office complexes and other industrial areas.

    With this development comes another change. Soil, which acts as a filter for removing the fecal bacteria and other viruses from runoff water, is replaced with impervious materials such as asphalt and concrete. When storm water runoff moves across these impervious surfaces it carries pesticides, fecal matter, heavy metals and other dangerous materials with it. This polluted water in turn contaminates shellfish beds, recreational areas and drinking water. This contamination causes illnesses such as gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, cellulitis, ear infections, respiratory infections, hepatitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

    This problem is especially true in coastal areas where development is heavy and wetlands have been decimated. Storm water runoff is not treated like human sewage is, so heavy rains can cause an overflow of polluted water into streams, lakes and estuaries. In coastal areas where sewage hookups are not an option, septic tanks cause other problems. Areas where septic tanks are located in sandy soil are susceptible to becoming saturated with contaminated water, resulting in runoff into shellfish beds and into fresh and seawater areas. The problem is magnified in areas with less then 10 percent of wetland coverage and a high percentage of impermeable surfaces.

    Working at the UNCW Center for Marine Science Mallin has conducted a decade long study of tidal creek areas in New Hanover County, an increasingly populated area in southeastern North Carolina. The study found that the average fecal coliform counts were higher in the creeks with higher population and a higher percentage of developed land in their watersheds.

    To reach this conclusion, Mallin and his team collected and analyzed more then 1,000 samples of fecal coliform bacteria and E. Coli throughout six different tidal creeks in New Hanover county and compared them to various demographic and terrain characteristics in the surrounding area. The article also states that when wetlands are replaced by impervious surfaces in watershed areas, rainfall will increase the amount of bacteria present in the surrounding area. Oftentimes shellfish beds will be closed automatically after a rainfall because of the tendency for these areas to have a higher bacterial pollution after storm water runoff runs through the area.

    As mentioned earlier, contamination by fecal bacteria is the leading cause of beach closings in the United States. These closings now affect roughly one third of the nation’s monitored beaches. Mallin cited other researchers who have found that a high population or area of high tourist interest during the beach season; is directly correlated to the number of closings. Beaches such as Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Doheny State Beach in Orange County, Calif., are two of the more commonly contaminated beaches, closed 54 days and 312 days, respectively, in 2004.

    These areas have a population of over 300 people per square mile and often times can see a fecal bacteria indicator count of thousands of colony forming units (CFU) of E. Coli and Enteroccus for every 100 milliliters of water when the highest acceptable level is 235 (CFU) and 104 (CFU) respectively. At one point, the Enteroccus level for Doheny State Beach reached 38,800 (CFU), which anyone can tell, is not normal or safe.

    Mallin does offer some solutions for these problems.

    He suggests that having a plan for environmentally sound development and coastal population growth is the best way to approach the future. By minimizing the amount of impervious surfaces when constructing new residential areas, office complexes and commercial areas will keep dangerous runoff down because the water will be allowed to filter through soil and dangerous contaminates will be removed. Construction companies can use a new semipervious concrete that allows water to permeate into the soil and also can support the weight of automobiles.

    Parking lots can also be downsized in tourist areas, as large lots are designed to hold enough people for the holidays and shopping seasons as opposed to everyday traffic. Preserving wetlands and if possible, expanding them will increase these naturally filtering soil; an area of greater than 13.5 percent of wetlands per watershed area is desirable.

    Finally, Mallin suggests that when planning for coastal development, communities should put restrictions on the amount of area covered by asphalt, concrete and other impervious surfaces to between 10 and 15 percent.

    Source: University of North Carolina Wilmington

    By Anonymous Mario Sanchez, at Tuesday, July 24, 2007 7:36:00 PM  

  • "Potential human pathogens (Salmonella and I/. cholerae) were isolated during this study from several sampling stations in Na-
    ples Bay and surrounding waterways. Fecal coliforms have routinely been used as indicators of water pollution by human pathogens. While fecal coliform counts are indices
    of fecal contamination, they may not be appropriate indicators of water quality in reference to certain types of pathogenic bacteria. The results of this study suggest that fecal coliform counts are not reliable indices for the presence of Salmonella and V. cholerue in an estuarine environment. If such is
    the case then other more accurate methods must be developed to determine the presence of pathogens in estuaries. Whether the
    presence of these bacteria in Naples Bay represents a significant health threat is not known at this time and warrants further monitoring of these waters and the human population. "

    Source: Recovery of Selected Pathogens from Naples Bay, Florida, and Associated Waterways

    By Anonymous Mario Sanchez, at Tuesday, July 24, 2007 7:52:00 PM  

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