A biologist with Missouri's Department of Conservation suffered year-long complications from E. coli poisoning after participating in a stream cleaning event, according to the testimony of an environmental advocate at a Missouri Clean Water Commission meeting in Jefferson City.
Dan Sherburne, who was with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment
at the time of the November 2008 meeting (he's now a consultant),
testified that Missouri's criteria for measuring bacteria levels in
state waters fall short of the standards set forth by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency.
To illustrate his point,
Sherburne brought up the example of the unfortunate biologist. During a
stream cleanup, Sherburne said, "He and another guy were trying to
remove a partly buried tire from a stream. It came loose suddenly and
splashed water into his mouth."
Department of Natural Resources tests water for bacteria and pathogens
over many months, then calculates the "geometric mean," from those numbers. The geometric mean calculation reduces the effect that very high and very low readings would otherwise have on the average. If the geometric mean turns out to be less than 206 colony forming units of E. coli per 100 milliliters, the waterway is deemed safe.
This method isn't
effective, Sherburne argued. The EPA recommends that the geometric mean standard be used in combination with a daily
maximum standard, which would lend more consideration to the highest E. coli readings recorded on a day-to-day basis. After all, when a kid swims in a creek and gets sick, he doesn't get sick from the "geometric mean" of E. coli sampling results -- he gets sick from the quantity of pathogens in the water that day.
In states that comply with the EPA's testing standards, Sherburne said, "there has been no evidence presented that this daily maxiumum standard has been ruinous or even onerous to facilities (that hold water-discharge permits). But there can be little doubt that its presence has been far more protective of public health than its absence would have been."
More disturbingly, Sherburne tells The Pitch, 90 percent of the waters in Missouri aren't "classified" by the DNR, and thus have no E. coli standards. The majority of those are not tested at all.
Ultimately, Sherburne's testimony didn't sway the commissioners. Hold onto your colons, folks.