Fraser Riverkeeper’s new campaign on sewage

Campaign poster from Fraser River Keepers

River Keepers devote themselves to safeguarding the health of our rivers, and they are a presence on the Fraser. Their new campaign, Swimmable Vancouver, is well worth supporting.

According to the specialized magazine Water Canada,

The launch of the Swimmable Vancouver campaign coincides with the release of Swim Drink Fish Canada’s Canada Beach Report, the first-ever comparative study of Canadian recreational water quality. The report finds that with few exceptions, provinces, and territories do not notify the public in the event of a sewage bypass that could increase contamination of recreational waters.

Lauren Hornor, Fraser Riverkeeper’s executive director [said] “However, as we work collectively to clean up our waters, the public needs to know when a sewage overflow or bypass has occurred in real time—not in a yearly report that won’t be released for months.”

Just as a reminder: raw sewage is dumped in Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River during storms mostly from the combined sewer outfalls of Vancouver and New Westminster.  (And in Victoria, well, raw sewage is dumped pretty much anytime anyone flushes.  Ditto for Tofino.)

Blue poo from bacteria

Can you spot the blue bacteria? (pic from New Scientist)

According to Clare Wilson, writing in New Scientist, gut bacteria may soon be used for a new type of diagnostic: the bacteria turn blue when disease is present – and so do the faeces of the ill person.

Mind you, this requires a particular type of bacteria genetically engineered to change colour in the presence of tetrathionate, a chemical produced in the guts of people with ulcerative colitis. Writes Wilson:

At the moment, many gut disorders are diagnosed by putting a camera on a thin flexible tube up the rectum. “People often don’t like that,” says Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School in Boston. And preparing for the procedure requires fasting and taking strong laxatives.

David Riglar at Harvard Medical School, who worked on the project, hopes that the modified bacteria could help diagnose some of the many diseases that have been linked to gut bacteria, such as Parkinson’s disease and autism.

That still leaves many questions unanswered, such as how to introduce the genetically modified bacteria to someone’s gut and ensure it survives – and is this truly a risk-free application of genetic engineering?  Be that as it may, gut bacteria never cease to surprise me.


Climate change, combined sewers, and disease

How combined sewers overflow

Older sewer systems are combined, that is, they consist of a single pipe meant to convey both sanitary sewage and storm runoff.  It is simple and it works well – except when major storms overwhelm the system, causing overflows.  In Vancouver, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) bypass the sewage treatment plant and dump raw sewage into Burrard Inlet, for instance.

This can lead to diseases associated with fecal viruses and bacteria.  Environmental scientist Jyotsna Jagai found a correlation between intense storms and disease in urban areas with combined sewers.  According to Brooks Hays reporting in Terra Daily,

Jagai began comparing rainfall data with hospital records in Massachusetts between 2003 and 2007. In cities with combined sewers, Jagai found heavy rains led to an 13 percent increase in gastrointestinal disorders linked to human waste-borne bacteria and viruses.

Jagai wants to build on her research so that residents could be warned when their water supply is at risk as a result of combined sewer overflows, or CSOs. Boil water advisories could be issued when rainfall totals increase a sewer system’s vulnerability. “If climate change predictions are true, we’ll be seeing more heavy rainfall and more CSO events in the next 10 to 20 years,” she said.

This is one more reason to come to grips with CSOs.  Vancouver has embarked on a slow (100 year plan) program to separate sewers and storm drains.  But a more cost-effective approach may be to use green infrastructure (rain gardens, green roofs, detention ponds) combined with sewer flow and storage control.

Mr Floatie is retiring!

Mr Floatie showing his sense of humour: what is Victoria’s real secret, you ask?

Mr Floatie (elementary school teacher James Skwarok in his other life) has decided to hang’em up, as announced recently in Metro News.

The activist in his brown costume made it his personal quest to raise awareness about the lack of any kind of sewage treatment in BC’s capital city.  According to the news,

Skwarok and his Mr. Floatie character decided to voluntarily step down after the region adopted a plan last September to build a treatment facility by 2020, ending the flow of unfiltered waste directly into the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Mr. Floatie is slated to make one of his last public appearances Friday at a ceremony in Seattle to mark his retirement, hosted by the Canadian consul general and attended by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and area tourism representatives.

Kudos to Mr Floatie!  I like to think that his frequent appearances played a role in the decision to finally bring sewage treatment to Victoria.

North Carolina deep in hog shit

The purpose of this blog is to promote a dialog about wastes – so as to better use them; they are a resource.  But when they are poorly disposed of, wastes can be a huge problem.

Ask residents of North Carolina who leave near the giant pig farms that dot the state’s countryside.  Chronic manure spills have been linked to the proliferation of the “cell from hell” in the Chesapeake bay waters, as chronicled in Rodney Barker’s excellent 1997 And the Waters Turned to Blood.

EWG has just published a report on the presence of hog fecal bacteria in people’s homes, and it makes for scary reading.  Here are excerpts:

Scientific tests found abundant hog feces on homes and lawns, and in the air of private properties near big hog farms in North Carolina – proof that factory farms are exposing nearby communities to dangerous fecal bacteria, endangering the health of tens of thousands of citizens. Despite this disgusting evidence, state lawmakers are moving to strip citizens of their right to fair compensation through so-called nuisance suits against concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs…EWG identified an estimated 270,000 residential properties within three miles of an industrial-scale hog farm.

As a result all these residents are at risk from pathogens, to say nothing of the overpowering smells that emanate from these giant operations, such as the ones controlled by Smithfield Foods, a conglomerate owned by Chinese investors.  But the state government is working on a bill that would severely limit the ability of the residents to seek compensation.


Whales, poonamis, and climate

I have posted before that whale poo is one of the key actors, if unheralded, in preventing climate change.  But a new video on that very topic, narrated by George Monbiot, has just been produced and it’s worth revisiting the topic.

There is truly gorgeous footage, including of whale poo (which is surprisingly appealing visually, although the smell is something else altogether, so I’m told).  There is also the coinage of the word “poo-nami” by Monbiot.

Pisner beer closes the P cycle

The Danish brewery Norrebro Bryghus is making a statement about brewing an ecological, sustainable beer: Pisner (a pun on Pilsner, obviously). The brewer collects all the urine from the Rosklide music festival – about fifty cubic meters of pee.

No, they don’t make beer with it – at least not directly.  The urine is used to fertilize the fields on which their barley supply is grown.  (Most of the nitrogen and phosphorus excreted in our waste is found in our urine.)  That barley produces 60,000 litres of beer.  If consumed at the festival, the nutrient cycle is really completed!

The Globe has more details here, but best is to watch the video found on the CBC site, here (happy beer drinkers with fun accents!).