Thursday, May 11, 2006

Keeping the Public Informed

The National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa is accused of dumping liquefied animal remains into that city's wastewater system. The reporting on this story is unhelpful:

When this waste breaks down it creates complex proteins called "prions." Prions are listed as an environmental hazard by the EPA. Prions can cause potenially [sic] fatal diseases in humans and animals. Prion diseases include chronic wasting disease, which is found in deer and elk populations, and mad cow disease (BSE). So far no cases of either disease has ever been found in Iowa.
Prions aren't a breakdown product of animal remains; they occur naturally in mammalian cells. If there are prions in the remains at NADC, they probably result from experiments like this one.

And prion diseases aren't "potentially fatal." They're always fatal, without exception.

Here's the really odd part:
The problem, is when the NADC disposes of waste from animals they test for various diseases these employees say they have allegedly not been burning all that waste. Inceneration [sic] is the safest way to dispose of the potentially hazardous waste. The employees say the NADC has been using a bleaching process on the liquid remains of animals.
Well, that's as it should be, since bleach deactivates prions.

The concern, it seems, is that prions might contaminate the sewage sludge that gets spread on fields used to grow human and animal crops. But if they're using bleach to deactivate the prions - as the whistleblowing employees themselves claim is the case - that shouldn't be an issue.

I don't get this story at all.

UPDATE: This article says the whistleblowers are complaining that the NADC isn't using bleach:
Officials of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the lab, said the heat treatment used in Ames is an approved method that deactivates the protein that causes the disease. The workers maintain that other labs use a safer system - bleaching, then cooking.


Anonymous said...

Hmn. Iowa DNR is challenging the Dept of Ag's assertion that bleaching liquid waste is adequate to eliminate prions. It's a factual dispute, and sounds capable of scientific resolution.

And it sounds like some people in Dept of Ag have some splainin to do.


Phila said...

Hmn. Iowa DNR is challenging the Dept of Ag's assertion that bleaching liquid waste is adequate to eliminate prions.

Well, if it's not, then a LOT of people have explaining to do. 'Cause as far as I know, bleaching liquid waste is the SOP for prion deactivation in labs all over the country. For instance, UCSF's biosafety manual says "Prions...can be inactivated by fresh household bleach...."

There may well be a problem at the Dept of Ag...I wouldn't know. My point here is that the article does very little to inform the public about what it is, and a fair amount to misinform them.

Steven L. said...

I drove a Ford Prion for a couple years in college. Not a bad car really. I didn't know bleach deactivates one, but then I never spilled any on it...

Rich said...

Especially since 9-11 there are critera that people and labs must meet in working with certain pathogens. See BMBL (Biosafety in Microbiology and Biomedical Laboratories) HHS Publication (CDC/NIH) for critera for various TSE pathogens (prions)labs. Anyone working with BSL (Biological Safety Level) 2, 3 or 4 level pathogens (most TSE's are 2, BSE was 4 until U.S. had cases, now BSE is a 3)has to have a mininmum of a PSL-2 Clearence (Position of Public Trust); which means if they have ANY doubt about SOPs not being followed they MUST report it or they are just as guilty as the person who may be breeching biosecurity; and, since 9-11, sentences for breaking rules or not reporting have been doubled. To understand what is happening do a google on Ames Waste and see Des Moines Register July 19 (3 stories). For more TSE info read do some selective searches on "marsh" (he Was and still is the most knowledgeable) bse tse.

Rich said...

meant Des Moines Register june 19th, search words ames waste