(EnviroNews Utah) – PRION: a word that many have never even heard before, but little do they know that this deadly and virulent “pest” may be lurking right on their dinner plate, or inside their cute little pets Fluffy and Rover, or even right in dear ol’ Gramma’s brain, for that matter, as she does seem to be losing her marbles a wee bit lately.
“Pest?” you might ask. Well, that is how the Environmental Protection Agency has re-classified the agent, after it was delisted from the Bioterrorism and Preparedness Act of 2002 some years back. Even though they have no nucleus or nucleic acid, and technically no “life,” these infectious killers now reside on the EPA’s list of “pests,” for the sheer reason that they behave like pests.
Prions, discovered by Nobel Prize-winning neurologist and biochemist Stanley B. Prusiner in 1982, are misfolded proteins that act as an infectious disease, attacking and hijacking otherwise normal proteins in the brains of humans and animals, in turn misfolding them in a replicating chain reaction of brain-eating “madness” called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy or TSE.
The familiar disease labels for the maladies caused by these species-jumping proteins include Mad Cow Disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans, and Chronic Deer, Elk, and Moose Wasting Disease in herd animals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), these infectious agents carry a horrifying 100% fatality rate to an infected host, and no living thing is known to have ever survived after it was diagnosed with TSE. To top it off, no treatment or therapy that can slow or halt the acceleration of the killer proteins is said to exist.
It is believed by many in the scientific community that prion diseases may be highly contagious and jump and mutate across species barriers with unusual ease. It is also in many situations difficult, if not impossible, to find a pathologist that will even touch a corpse that is suspected of being contaminated with the proteins.
What is believed by many prion experts is that the number of prion infections in animals and humans is rising at an alarming pace, and that Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia are frequently misdiagnosed when the patient may actually be suffering from a brain-destroying protein affliction.
To add to all of this, these same prion wonks have expressed grave concern over the dumping of prion-containing sewage into the sea as well as onto farmland. They point to the fact that dolphins are now wasting away from yet another form of the transmissible killer as evidence.
With all of the horrifying facts listed above, you would think that the government would be deploying any and all means to manage, control, and eliminate the deadly threat, but unfortunately we have witnessed instead a campaign of misinformation and mismanagement that has served to sweep the truth about the very real and present dangers of the prion under the rug.
The problem, you see, comes with the destruction or inactivation of the little misfolding “pests.” Prions are showing themselves to be resilient to a level that makes bacteria and viruses seem like child’s play to eliminate, and there is also great variation in the level of resiliency among individual prion strains. In fact, our research has led us to believe that when you get right down to it, really nobody knows for sure what will universally achieve their destruction, yet it is believed by many that burning them at any temperature achieved in an incinerator is not sufficient to inactivate them. This fact was alluded to by representatives of the medical-waste incineration company Stericycle back in July in a town hall meeting in North Salt Lake City, when Selin Hoboy, a VP with the company, had this to say:
There are studies that show that prions are never really fully destroyed and remain in the environment.
Despite the lack of universally accepted, peer-reviewed, and definitive scientific research on the IFs and HOWs of prion inactivation, the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste (DSHW), a division of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), went ahead and handed out a hall pass for Stericycle to accept and incinerate the deadly agent back in 2006. However, in the special permit condition that allows them to accept prions, it also mandates them to contact DSHW in the event that they are planning to accept any tissue suspected of containing the proteins. The permit language is as follows:
Stericycle will need to inform the Division prior to acceptance of these wastes to determine if incineration can be performed in accordance with the permit. The Permit will be modified in Section I.B.6 to read as follows:
‘Stericycle shall obtain approval from the Executive Secretary prior to the acceptance and disposal of animals contaminated with “Mad Cow” disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, BSE), chronic wasting disease, or bird flu (Avian Influenza). The facility must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Executive Secretary and the Utah Department of Agriculture that the incinerator can be operated such that the time/temperature profiles of the incinerator can effectively destroy the animals and the disease that infects that animal.
The above special language is key, as it requires Stericycle to notify DSHW prior to accepting any materials suspected of containing the deadly proteins. The language also in essence states that their incinerator would have to be tested and prove its capability in destroying not only the animal carcass but also the disease agent itself.
We know for a fact that none of these “demonstrations” as they pertain to the destruction of Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)-containing carcasses have ever happened. EnviroNews USA spoke with Ralph Bohn of the Division back in July and asked him if Stericycle had ever reported plans to accept any prions since 2006, and his response was an immediate “No.”
It is also extremely important to point out that the language gives them permission to accept prion-laden animal carcasses, but no mention is made anywhere in the permit that would grant them permission to accept HUMAN tissue infected with prions.
Well, all of this special prion language raises a very interesting point, since the latency period of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is known to be from 11–40 years, and Mad Cow and CWD can take anywhere from 4–11 years to gestate, and only a minuscule, immeasurably small fraction of the human and animal body parts that are dealt with as “waste” are ever tested before going up the smokestack of course.
Stericycle is a company that is currently under State and Federal DOJ criminal investigations for “cooking the books” on Department of Air Quality (DAQ) compliance tests, and it has recently been discovered that little if not ZERO inspection or oversight exists between point A, where medical, veterinary and wildlife waste is declared, to point Z, where it is burned and goes up the smokestack.
In light of the revelations concerning Stericycle’s alleged “cheating,” outraged community members have been up in arms over the situation, watching the company nearly night and day, documenting each and every time their ominous emergency bypass stack comes open like the mouth of a flaming dragon.
When substances or plumes are emitted from the bypass stack, it is understood that they are going directly into the environment, unfiltered and un-scrubbed, vomiting an array of deadly metals, chemicals and biologicals onto the local townsfolk and into the greater Wasatch airshed.
On Sept. 6, 2013, a massive emergency bypass event occurred smack dab in the middle of a PTA 5K run in the surrounding Foxoboro neighborhood. The event was recorded by Aaron Wiley, a courageous citizen who directly exposed himself to the hazardous black billowing emissions in order to document the episode. He immediately sent the recording in to local EnviroNews Utah through the Community Watch, and the subsequent video and attached article went viral and even received coverage in the Huffington Post, as well as on the local FOX, ABC, CBS and NBC news affiliates.
All of the attention on the horrendous bypass episode led to the calling of a press conference on Capitol Hill by local environmental and community groups, where they coalesced around a unified message of a complete emergency shutdown of the old waste burner, via the Governor’s pen.
At that press conference, Dr. Brian Moench, Founder and President of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, took to the podium and delivered a bombshell in regards to the deadly prion AND radiation emissions of the Stericycle medical waste incineration facility, wherein he essentially explained that due to the aforementioned facts regarding gestation periods and lack of testing and inspection, it is virtually impossible that Stericycle is not burning prions and radiation.
Keep in mind that Stericycle has never notified the Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste of any intention to accept prions as is mandated by their highly unique 2006 permit condition, and radiation is explicitly prohibited front and center in the same permit.
The language that prohibits Stericycle to burn radiation reads thus:
- Hazardous Waste
- Municipal Waste
- Radioactive Waste
- PCB Waste
In Utah’s currently raging battle against the incineration of deadly waste, also of concern is another company, not all that far away from the Salt Lake Valley as the crow flies. It turns out that Stericycle is not the only one around that is burning tons of medical junk from OTHER states, as another Utah DSHW incineration permit has also recently come into the EnviroNews spotlight of scrutiny. The company is Clean Harbors, which operates the Aragonite incineration plant in Toole County, as well as two other non-incineration waste facilities west of Salt Lake City.
In Section 3.9 titled “Infectious Waste,” Clean Harbors’ Aragonite permit grants yet another hall pass for much of the same biological incineration madness as the Stericycle permit, but unlike the Stericycle permit, it contains no special prion language nor grants them special permission to accept the “pest” under any circumstances. The language specifying the bottom-of-the-barrel junk allowed to be burned by Clean Harbors is as follows:
3.9 Infectious Wastes
These wastes are defined in Condition 1.U.5. All incoming infectious waste must fall into one of the following categories/subcategories:
• Carcasses of Animals
• Body Parts of Animals
• Bulk Blood or Blood Products of Animals
• Bulk Body Fluids of Animals (Including Feces and Urine)
• Bedding of Animals
Human Blood/Human Blood Products/Human Body Fluid Wastes
• Bulk Human Blood
• Bulk Human Blood Products
• Bulk Human Body Fluids (Including Feces and Urine)
• Disposable Items Saturated/Contaminated with Blood and Body Fluids
• Discarded Cultures or Stocks of Infectious Agents
• Discarded Cultures or Specimens
• Discarded Vaccines
• Discarded, Used Disposable Culture Dishes
• Discarded, Used Disposable Devices for Culture Processing
• Human Materials Removed During Surgery
• Human Materials Removed During Labor and Delivery
• Human Materials Removed During Autopsy or Embalming
• Hypodermic Needles
• Hypodermic Syringes with Attached Needles
• Scalpel Blades
• Razor Blades, Disposable Razors and Scissors Used in Medical Procedures
• Intravenous Stylets and Rigid Introducers
• Glass Pasteur Pipettes, Tubes, Culture Bottles and Slides
• Broken Glass from Laboratories
• Tattoo Needles, Acupuncture Needles, and Electrolysis Needles
As was pointed out by Dr. Brian Moench on Capitol Hill, prions exist in human and animal tissue, and in most cases, go unrecognized and undiagnosed before the host dies of either the prion illness itself or of some other cause. It is also well understood that we have radioactive elements in our bodies from bomb fallout, Fukushima, Chernobyl, Rocketdyne, Three Mile Island, and multiple other nuclear meltdowns and disasters — not to mention environmental contamination from uranium mining and processing. Additionally, cancer-treatment waste is also known to frequently contain radioactive isotopes, although these isotopes decay much more quickly than many of the elements present in bomb fallout and certainly nuclear meltdown materials.
With admittedly slim inspection of the “diabolical”-looking red waste bags between point A, where the waste is created and declared by health care and veterinary service providers, and point Z, where it is turned into toxic vapors in the smokestack of an incinerator, how can anyone possibly believe that Stericycle, Clean Harbors, or any of the nation’s remaining medical-waste incinerators, for that matter, are not burning prions and radioactive elements into the open environment?
Less than three decades ago, there were 2,373 medical-waste incinerators burning industry junk around the country. Today, our research leads us to believe that there are only 33 left spanning 17 states. The other 2,300+ incinerators have been closed one by one around the country, largely due to a combination of community pressure and anti-incineration legislation that has now been passed in many states.
These days, with the gavel of truth hammering down on Stericycle, they won’t talk to community members, journalists or local media outlets or practically anyone for that matter, with the dubious exception of one man, who also conveniently happens to be a local politician.
Todd Weiler, the Republican State Senator who represents District 23, has recently announced that he will be running a bill that seeks to ban the burning of medical waste in the State of Utah. Back in July, Weiler attended a town hall meeting, where to people’s surprise, Stericycle representatives actually showed up, which led to a heated dialog between them, various crowd members, environmental groups, DAQ compliance enforcers and Senator Weiler.
In the meeting, Weiler took flak from the crowd for defending Stericycle, after he pointed out that the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment had taken up substantial floor space in the timeframe that Stericycle had agreed to be in attendance. Audience members didn’t seem to care much about what was “fair,” nor did they really want to see Stericycle defended for ANYTHING at all in light of the most recent and possibly criminal actions that had just come bubbling forth.
After audience members had been demanding of him to run some legislation that would protect them, Weiler fired back with a snarky tone, saying, “I can sponsor a bill and I can’t tell you how far it’ll get. But if you want me to run a bill, I’ll run it.”
Fast-forward a couple months, and these days he’s whistling a different tune since he has come out confidently in the media, announcing that he will actually run legislation that will seek an all-out ban on the incineration of medical waste in Utah. And in contrast to his initial pessimistic attitude, Weiler now feels confident that he can get a bill through.
The announcement of his legislation has some anti-Stericycle activists smiling, but other environmentalists say “not so fast.” Since there is no language to actually look at yet, some are concerned that the bill could come out without any real “teeth” and that it might not accomplish what he proclaims it will. Others worry that it could be a publicity stunt for Weiler to get back on the good side of his constituents, after his popularity took a hit for his previous positions as well as his multiple defenses of Stericycle. There is also concern over the issue that Weiler has become Stericycle’s virtual liaison to the outside world and is apparently the only person that Stericycle will communicate with, which is at least slightly sketchy in appearance.
To Weiler’s credit he did humbly say that he has “learned a lot” about the medical-waste issue in the past few months. He also deserves the benefit of the doubt for holding to his word and actually committing to run legislation, but the proof will be in the pudding in regards to the promised anti-medical-waste burning bill. That being said, even the skeptics are still hopeful that he will actually follow through on what he says he will accomplish.
With two medical incinerators now running 24 hours a day in the State of Utah (that we know of), residents are beginning to wonder just what the deal is with their local political climate, a pro-business atmosphere that has paved the way for these death burners — as well as many other industrial waste dumps — to set up shop in this otherwise pristinely gorgeous place.
It leaves one to ask if the policy here is simply one of a “hush hush,” “don’t ask–don’t tell” nature that allows for the quiet yet profitable transformation of tens of thousands of tons of carcinogenic waste junk into invisible vapor — a deadly and mutagenic vapor that then, in-turn, is distributed all around by way of the air and water, to be ultimately and subsequently inhaled and consumed by us all.
But hey, look on the bright side: At least it’s good for “jobs” and “business,” right? I mean, Stericycle creates a whopping 50 whole jobs, and at least the medical and medical-waste industries will get more sick clients this way — and more money, of course.
So just how does the “do no harm” essence of the Hippocratic Oath factor into all of this? From here, it’s starting to look like the medical-waste business could be the poster child for the term “vicious cycle.” SteriCYCLE could always change their name to ViciousCYCLE. Others have suggested SCARYcycle. Just thoughts for the Stericycle suggestion box, of course … Hey, wait — do they have a suggestion box?