September 27, 2006

Life is Spinach. Mmm.

We have all been aware of the recent contamination of spinach with e. coli. Certainly, the concern is justified. But why, asks Thomas Rooney of Insituform Technologies, a sewer and water repair company, is no one talking about the increasing contamination of our waterways and beaches?

Rivers and streams such as the Flambeau River in Wisconsin, St. Mary's in Michigan, the Delaware in Pennsylvania, and a number of others in the US and Canada have been found with high e. coli levels in just the past month. Beaches periodically close in Florida as well as Calilfornia because of outbreaks of bacterial infestation.

According to the CDC, e. coli bacteria infect approximately 73,000 people a year in the US, causing an average of 61 deaths annually. Coincidentally, Mr. Rooney reports that last year, there were 73,000 sewer spills in the US, and the aging of our sewer systems only promises to make things worse. Sickness from e. coli is one of our most preventable public health problems, and it is spreading.

Let's hope the CDC sees the spinach outbreak not as an aberration, but as the canary in the mine. We have come from discovering that cholera was spread through a central water source to testing water to parts per billion in a short time. It would be a shame if our unwillingness to invest in our infrastructure set us back again.

(And by the way, Mr Rooney reports that the stories about alligators in the sewers are true -- along with racoons, shopping carts, and just about anything else you can think of. And if you don't belive him, he has videos).
-Paul Root Wolpe

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