Ok, the guy who put this whole story together is a retired soil scientist (BTW my dad is a currently active soil scientist... not that that has anything to do with anything...) and so the report is a little heavy on the science and the policy and local politics, but bear with it, as it seems the current spinach outbreak originating in Salinas is not the result of an isolated mistake or oversight, but a systemic and complete disregard of the safety requirements needed to prevent such an outbreak by organizations at the at the county and state level. Here's Frank Pecarich with the literally dirty details:
"I am one of the last to cry “cover-up in government” but sometimes the evidence seems overwhelming. For weeks now the US has been suffering one of the worse outbreaks of E. coli in our food stream in history. This event centered on spinach grown in Monterey County. On September 8 it started when Wisconsin reported that there was a problem to the CDC and it was on September 14 that the FDA issued an alert asking Americans to shun spinach.
As we watched this repeat of previous E.coli contaminations unfold, there was a distinct sense of deja vu. By now all have now read that there have been 20 such cases in the last decade and an FDA official recently said that we probably could expect a 21st case. This is the ninth outbreak that has been traced to the Salinas Valley.
A major concern is the fact that Monterey County since at least 1998 has been irrigating 12,000 acres of edible food crops with tertiary treated sewage effluent water in their $78 million Castroville Sea Water Intrusion Project. The Monterey County officials, including their local Congressman, have been claiming that their tertiary treated sewage effluent is safe to use as irrigation water and has been fully tested. As they tap-dance and send out this “no-worry” message, much of the regulatory and scientific world looks on in wonderment.
Other than in Santa Rosa, California, which recently started irrigating about 6000 acres of crops with municipal sanitation system sewage effluent, it is probable that no other governmental entity in the US uses sewage effluent to irrigate contamination-vulnerable crops like spinach and lettuce. Even Nevada, well known to appreciate gambling, would not gamble on the safety of their food supply. A few years ago even Nevada instituted a prohibition on using effluent to irrigate contamination prone food crops and like most sensible people limited the use of effluent water to golf courses and the like. Canada, realizing that the United States was using effluent on exported vegetables recently proposed regulations that will not allow the importation of produce that has been irrigated with sewage treatment plant effluent to be sold as 'certified organic' in Canada.
While all this has been going on, inspectors from government agencies have been combing the fields in Monterey County looking like Junior Inspector Closeaus. It’s as if the FDA and others never picked up a research study as the evidence is compelling that using effluent to irrigate edible crops, certainly tender leafy green vegetables, is a very bad idea.
Since the government officials cannot seem to find the truth, let’s – like the Little Red Hen – do it ourselves. We can start with the 2005 interim research report of the august andhighly acclaimed Agricultural Research Service which is the primary research branch of the USDA. In their report entitled "Groundwater Recharge and Wastewater Irrigation" to Protect Crops and Groundwater, the soil scientist researchers were unequivocal in their conclusion that E. coli was present in treated effluent that passed through pipelines on its way to the point of irrigation. Specifically they said, “this research established that although the reclaimed water met EPA standards for irrigation at the treatment plant, there is great potential for bacterial re-growth during transport that could place the water out of compliance at the point of intended use.”
The USDA scientists went on to say, “this work illustrated the critical need to understand the environmental fate of microorganisms and the potential for bacterial re-growth in reclaimed water used for crop rotation so that future problems of food and groundwater contamination via wastewater irrigation can be prevented”. Because the USDA study emphasized the E. coli contamination potential in the pipelines, it should be noted that Monterey County’s pipeline system to deliver this treated sewage effluent to farmland is forty five miles in total length. What the USDA ARS 2005 report then concluded was that E. coli can get through tertiary treated water and onto cropland.
Monterey County has cited as evidence their own “homegrown” studies that basically ended in 1987. They used these studies to justify their proceeding with their recycled effluent-food crop irrigation efforts."
Another example of the government not liking the facts of science, so they concoct their own studies with the "truthiness" needed to rationalize their own cost-cutting and hazardous behaviors.
If the government doesn't believe what scientists are telling them why do they even hire them in the first place?