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Pennsylvania Residents Blame Biosolids for E. coli in Water

After local well water tested positive for E. coli, residents in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania are blaming biosolids, applied to a nearby farm for the contamination.

Bill Schaffhouser, who has lived near the farm for six years, is trying to raise awareness among his neighbors about the E. coli contamination, which he believes came from human waste used as fertilizer, according to a report by WFMZ Lehigh Valley News. Residents concerned about the issue attended a Lynn Township meeting this week.

Schaffhouser told WFMZ his concerns began after having a new water system installed. The installer “had tested some water on the back streets over there and came up with E-coli and the gentleman had told us that they were putting this human feces on the fields behind us,” according to Shaffhouser.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection told WFMZ that the farm had been granted permission to use biosolids called granulite, which is waste recycled into fertilizer pellets. According to the WFMZ report, the farmer confirmed that the granulite contains about 30 percent human feces.

“All our wells are coming up with E. coli. Where else could it be coming from?” said Schaffhouser.

E. coli bacteria can be found in biosolids — as can heavy metals, antimicrobials, and other chemicals — but most E. coli strains do not pose a threat to human health. Waste recycled for land application should be treated to reduce bacteria, but regulation varies on the local level.

The full report and video can be found here.

© Food Safety News
  • http://www.battaglia-gmbh.ch Reto Battaglia

    I am just simply HORRIFIED to learn that these “biosolids” apparently have not undergone a sterilization!! The practice to “fertilize” with unsterilized waste of any sort is irresponsible.

  • Justin

    Was it one water well with e. coli or a whole bunch of wells? Is the granular biosolids thingy testing positive for e. coli or not? Has any credible epidemiology been completed? Is this isolated incident being reported because it has national or global food safety significance? What?
    Smells like more feces-tainted “reporting” published at Food Safety News. Give it up Marler — you’ve gone over to join the “True Believers”. Now we can’t believe you. That’s a damned shame.

  • Food Safety News

    Hi Justin — Multiple wells were contaminated in one neighborhood – further detail is not available. Here is another press report if you’d like: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2011/12/29/Use-of-human-waste-in-fertilizer-opposed/UPI-35031325177171/?spt=hs&or=tn

  • Steve

    Fact is, Sludge, cutely named “Biosolids” — comes directly out of municipal sewage systems. While that’s a LOT of E coli to dump into the environment that’s not all there is to it. The industrial waste stream also runs through the sewage “treatment” plants — contributing a wide range of additional toxic waste, heavy metals, etc.
    Once “processed”, it’s sold cheap as a “natural” fertilizer source to gullible farmers –spread on fields with the run-off going off willy nilly into the agricultural environment as well as streams and ground water and yes, people’s wells…
    Sludge on farmland is a national scandal framed as business as usual. It’s worth mentioning that the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 completely prohibited the use of sludge in organic food production. Although industrial food interests initially succeeded in inserting allowances for sludge (along with GMOs and irradiation) into organic in the rule-making process, there was a huge public outcry against this and USDA was forced to take the proposed rule back to the drawing board and come up with a final — clean — version.

  • fred funk

    the e coli more than likely was present prior to any biosolids applications. More likely than the biosolids, the source of contamination was septic tanks and drainfields.

  • david duck

    Well said fred and I agree. The residents should be checking for a defective septic system and or shoddy workmanship. Homes next to a farm means a new sub division cause the farm did not just move there I’m sure. If he’s going to run into a fire house yelling theater, This guy should make sure it’s not his own feces tainting his well.

  • Eckville Press

    The water on the “back street” tested positive for E.coli, no documentation showing the wells tested positive for E.coli was presented to the townships supervisors.
    The Lynn Township Sewer Plant is directly across the street form Mr. Schaffhouser’s home and the system has leak issues and during heavy rains Donald Christ opens the “By-Pass”, perhaps the neighbors should attend a Sewer Authority meeting.
    This has been an ongoing issue in Lynn Township but because of Donald’s activities in local politics the sewer plant has no resolve.
    So drink up my friend.
    E.coli, is not just for breakfast anymore!
    And be sure to cook your meat!

  • http://www.garveyresources.com Diane Garvey

    This article is not based on fact but appears to purposely ignite an emotional response based on a lack of information. Treated sewage sludge (biosolids) has been processed, tested, and beneficially used in agriculture in PA for over 30 years, and in other areas of the country since the 1920’s in the form of a pelletized fertilizer. The regulation and management of biosolids is designed to protect groundwater quality, soils, crops, human health, wildlife, and the environment. Municipal wastewater containing “human feces” is transformed through the wastewater treatment process. It is decomposed by naturally occurring bacteria and the resulting solids are further treated to destroy E. coli through heat drying. This product is then called biosolids.
    E. coli is a large group of bacteria, only some of which are disease-causing for humans. In fact, pathogenic E. coli mostly live in the intestines of livestock (source:www.ecolilitigation.com). Products like Granulite undergo heat treatment which destroys pathogens, including E. coli. We rely on heat to pasteurize our milk, to cook our food to make it safe to eat, and now we are relying on heat to destroy pathogens in the biosolids that are used as fertilizer. This heat dried material is then carefully tested for pathogen indicator organisms to assure its safe use as a fertilizer.
    We feel badly for the families whose wells are contaminated but would urge neighbors and the press not to jump to conclusions and condemn biosolids outright. They have proven to be a safe, economical, and environmentally-friendly means of recycling a natural product that would otherwise be sent to a landfill.