This Post is NOT about stirring panic, but offered instead to make sure that people are informed about a real hazard in the Molalla area. E. coli is serious, and people need to be informed…
Escherischia coli is a rod-shaped bacterium commonly found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms such as humans and cattle. There are many different strains and most are harmless, but a few strains have caused foodborne illness. E. coli O157:H7 causes abdominal cramping, vomiting and a diarrheal illness, often with bloody stools. Most healthy adults can recover completely within a week. Young children and the elderly are at highest risk for developing HUS, which can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. A Shiga toxin may be produced by some strains; it causes ulcers in the colon, and when these ulcers bleed, they commonly produce bloody diarrhea.
When found in mass-produced food items, E. coli can result in enormous food safety recalls. The last large U.S. recall was in May 2014, when eleven people in four states were sickened by E. coli O157:H7 infections, and a Detroit meat packing company recalled 1.8 million pounds of ground beef. Today, in Alberta, at least 157 E. coli illnesses have been confirmed, caused by tainted pork in wontons, spring rolls and other frozen Asian food products.
How dangerous are some of the E. coli strains?
In 2011, nearly 4,000 people became ill, mostly in Germany, from eating bean sprouts that were tainted with the O104:H4 strain; more than 50 died. In the fall of 2006, 199 people in multiple U.S. states came down with illness after eating packaged spinach tainted with E. coli O157:H7, and three died. In spring 2009, 72 people nationwide became ill from prepackaged Nestle Toll House cookie dough; they had snacked on the raw product (don’t we all, when making cookies?), and the rash of hospital visits prompted a product recall.
Many of us remember the original story that made E. coli big news, in January 1993, when a 2-yr-old boy became the first fatality among more than a hundred victims of food poisoning, caused by tainted hamburger served at Seattle-area Jack-in-the-Box fast food restaurants.
(click on image to open PDF copy of the 60-page slide presentation)
Some of the most costly product recalls related to E. coli have been for ground beef. In a 60-slide presentation published in 2006 (approx.), USDA-ARS scientist Mick Bosilevac concluded that a leading cause of E. coli contamination was at the ‘kill floor’, when the hides of cattle were not properly cleaned. If enough of the bacteria passes into the final ground beef product, the hamburger is no longer safe to sell raw; it must be destroyed, or converted to a cooked hamburger final product.
What does this have to do with the creeks in Molalla?
8/25/2014: Ponding & irrigation along Mathias Road. The sign warns: ‘avoid contact and do not drink the water’.
During the summer now ending, Molalla has piped millions of gallons of wastewater from the sewage treatment plant west of Safeway to Coleman Ranch, on the east end of town. It has been used to irrigate hundreds of acres of pasture. This pasture is at the headwaters area for both Bear Creek and Creamery Creek. When the soils become saturated and the water ponds, the excess flows into the creeks, then downstream through Molalla neighborhoods.
E. coli contamination typically occurs in relation to the feces of cattle, humans, and other mammals. So, there would appear to be a substantially high probability that Molalla STP wastewater irrigated in excess onto ranchland could elevate E. coli in our local creeks.
Twice this year, agricultural officials from the State of Oregon have sampled waters in the ditch area near the United Methodist Church. Both times they found substantially elevated E. coli levels. The waters in this ditch become Creamery Creek, which flows northwest through the residential areas between the High School and the downtown area.
DEQ and City officials have been made aware of these elevated E. coli readings in Creamery Creek watershed, but it is not clear if any officials have done any sampling of the creek, or if they have warned any residents about this potential health hazard. In the meantime, heavy pasture irrigation continues, using Molalla STP wastewater, and this heavy irrigation is likely helping to maintain (or even raise) the elevated E. coli levels.
We depend on our government officials to take the lead in protecting all citizens. Just two months ago, swimming at Vancouver Lake was closed by Vancouver officials, due to high E. coli levels. They handled it correctly, for Public safety: they measured the hazard frequently, and they posted the data online:In Molalla, irrigation using Molalla STP wastewater is allowed by a permit process involving DEQ oversight. There is also a need to monitor the results of this permitted wastewater application, just as there is a need to timely communicate with the citizens if and when a potential health hazard arises.
Given the known dangers of E. coli, and given the readings collected by Ag officials twice this year (which were far higher than the Vancouver Lake readings between 308 and 1,203 on July 8th), it would appear that DEQ and City officials may be failing their duties to serve Molalla residents near Creamery Creek.
A creek in a backyard should be a thing of joy and wonder, an opportunity for exploration and learning for a curious child. A healthy addition to our home and community. Molalla is blessed with such creeks. We need to take care of them.