Germany’s Biogas Bhopal? Deadly E. Coli “House-Made” Says Expert

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UPDATE:  Healthy green organic farms may be the source! Hat-tip DirkH.
and here: Police raid organic farm
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The German Die Welt online here reports that veterinary and medical experts are now saying that biogas plants may be the source of the lethal E. coli bacteria now running rampant through Germany. Although the disaster is nowhere the scale we saw in Bhopal, India, so far we have seen 18 dead and over 500 hospitalized. And needless to say, millions of Europeans are spooked.

Die Welt writes:

Ernst-Günther Hellwig, director of the Agricultural and Veterinary Academy in Horstmar, warns that the bacteria likely comes from new sources, saying the epidemic is a house-made German problem. ‘It is possible that the EHEC contagion comes from biogas plants,’ he said.”

Die Welt also reports that Hellwig has long been critical of biogas plants. Yet biogas industry proponents claim there is no connection between the current E. coli outbreak and biogas plant operations.

Hellwig is not alone in this belief. Die Welt also writes that laboratory director Bernd Schottdorf, founder of the 1500-employee private medical laboratory Schottdorf MVZ in Augsburg, the biggest in Europe, also thinks the connection is possible. “Spores survive the biogas plants’ prescribed hygienization of 70°C without a problem“, he says. “We don’t know if the hygienization is properly carried out at all biogas plants.” When waste product from biogas plants is spread on fields, they can contaminate the vegetables.

North Germany’s unusual dry weather and drought conditions, where it did not rain for weeks during the springtime, may have played a role in the spread of the deadly bacteria. Spores can stay on plants for a long time, as they don’t get washed off by rain. The biogas plant substrate, which is a by-product and is used as a fertilizer, probably didn’t get washed off the crops by any rain. Currently there are 6800 biogas plants in Germany and their inspection is disorganised.

North German drought and dirty irrigation and “unwashed” crops

Manure slurry spreaders also used for irrigation.

Die Welt also writes that experts believe the unusually dry spring weather also may have led farmers to irrigate their crops using their liquid-manure spreaders. Farmers sometimes irrigate crops during dry spells using liquid manure spreaders, as this German manufacturer suggests here (scroll down to Liquid manure Distribution and irrigation systems).

The problem is that these liquid manure tanks are of course dirty and so contaminate the water, which in turn contaminates the crops. And then if it doesn’t rain for days or weeks, the crops stay contaminated through the time they are harvested.

Some points are clear: 1) The source of the E. coli is Northern Germany, which is home to many biogas plants and where agricultural manure fertilizer is widely used. The weather in the run-up to the start of the epidemic was very dry. Indeed, more detective work is needed to trace back the cause.

The online  FOCUS magazine here also brings up the biogas plant issue, hat-tip DirkH.

Biogas plants are also suspected of causing DEADLY BOTULISM in North German Agriculture, read here. Looks like all the well-intentioned green growing is leading to a trail of death and illness instead of natural health and cleanliness.

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17 responses to “Germany’s Biogas Bhopal? Deadly E. Coli “House-Made” Says Expert”

  1. Ed Caryl

    This theory should be easy to prove, but isn’t. The problem is the number of biogas plants. It only takes one out of that 6800 to cause the problem. That’s a lot of inspectors, Petrie dishes, and incubators. Do the plants test their effluent for sterility? Probably not.

    1. DirkH

      No they don’t – Die Welt quotes some snippets from a forum for biogas plant owners where they share tips about how to fulfill the requirements of the “hygienization” guideline – requiring a heating of the fermenter mud to 70 C for one hour. There seems to be no standard technology for this but different installations do it differently so it’s anyone’s guess as to how effective they are killing germs…

  2. DirkH

    Breaking: Source are bean sprouts distributed by a company in Bienenbüttel (between Lüneburg and Ülzen, smack bang in the middle of biogas country). Owner Klaus Verbeck says “The sprouts haven’t been fertilized.”
    Gärtnerhof Bienenbüttel GmbH
    Fichtenweg 10, 29553 Bienenbüttel, Deutschland
    http://www.gaertnerhof.org/
    Click on the caption “Die Keimsprossen” to find their ad for their bean sprouts. “Organic gardening since 1978”.

    Seems to be, ahem, a kind of commune of ecos. I have his name from this article
    http://www.abendblatt.de/ratgeber/gesundheit/article1913948/Sprossen-aus-Niedersachsen-wohl-EHEC-Ausloeser.html

    so it’s public info… I’m not posting this so you can stalk him but because it might be interesting to find the next biogas plant from this location…

  3. Adolf Balik
  4. DirkH

    CBS about the EHEC outbreak and the organic farm in Bienenbüttel
    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/06/05/501364/main20069129.shtml

  5. Ulrich Elkmann

    From the CBS report:
    The comments by Health Minister Daniel Bahr reflected a sharp shift in his public response to the crisis and came after AP journalists reported on emergency room chaos and unsanitary conditions at the same hospital, the University Medical Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf.
    On Saturday, Bahr admitted that hospitals in northern Germany were overwhelmed and struggling to provide beds and medical care for victims of the outbreak, and he suggested that other German regions start taking in sick patients from the north.
    But after one E. coli survivor told the AP that conditions at the Hamburg hospital were horrendous when she arrived with cramps and bloody diarrhea, Bahr announced a visit and told reporters that German medical workers and northern state governments were doing “everything necessary” to help victims.
    Nicoletta Pabst, 41, told the AP that sanitary conditions at the Hamburg-Eppendorf hospital were shocking and its emergency room was overflowing with ailing people when she arrived May 25.
    “All of us had diarrhea and there was only one bathroom each for men and women — it was a complete mess,” she said Saturday. “If I hadn’t been sick with E. coli by then, I probably would have picked it up over there.”
    You might take this as a litmus test for the reporting by German MSM: they will not even mention this, or to correct it (if it should actually be misleading). It could create false impressions…

    1. DirkH

      Well, a lot of German newspapers simply reprint AP reports. Nicoletta Pabst is already making the rounds, for instance:
      http://www.welt.de/vermischtes/weltgeschehen/article13410933/Musste-mich-uebergeben-habe-geweint-und-geschrien.html

      1. DirkH

        Ulrich, you were right. All reports about Nicoletta Pabst’s misadventure that i find in the German papers seem to be heavily “sanitized”. Unbelievable.

  6. Verity Jones

    Don’t conflate the survival of botulinum spores with that of living cells of E. coli, which do not produce spores and do not survive pasteurisation, providing it is done correctly.

    Sprouts have no need of fertilisation as all the nutrients for germination are contained in the seed.

    You can see how the sprouts are produced here:
    http://www.gaertnerhof.org/Diashow%20Keimsprossen/index.htm
    The most likely sources of infection are either the water supply, particularly if water is partially reused, or the seeds themselves. (I wrote this before reading DirkH’s CBS link, which says the same thing)

    The conditions under which the seeds are sprouted will allow bacteria to multiply and they will be washed before packing. If they are not refrigerated and kept at low temperatures after packing/distribution, there is again the possibility for bacteria to multiply.

    I’ve worked for food factories and under EU law the water must be tested for ‘coliforms’ – bacteria related to E. coli. Most of these will be harmless soil bacteria that cannot cause illness, but because of the way we test for them they still show up. A certain (very low) legal limit is permitted – the problem is that you cannot tell in these simple tests which ones are harmess and which ones are able to cause illness.

    To get ill typically you do not just eat ‘one or two microbes’ of a type that can cause infection – you must eat an ‘infective load’ which may be as high as tens of thousands of ‘units’ of the specific strain of bacteria that are able to overwhelm the immune system and cause an illness. It is a common problem with salads:
    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/march/recalls-and-safety-alerts/bagged-salad/index.htm

  7. R. de Haan

    Take on the following habit:
    Wash your fresh vegetables in salt water (10% salt content) for at least five minutes.

    Rinse with fresh water to remove the salt.

  8. Paddy

    Verity Jones: Some of your comments about the characteristics and behavior of bacteria are incorrect. My daughter is a professor of cell biology at one of the top science research universities in the US. Her work in large part involves E Coli. She has authored or co-authored dozens of peer reviewed studies.

    She published a paper in the PNSF Journal dealing with E Coli spores a few years ago. Its findings are based upon techniques she developed for dyeing and photographing live bacteria life cycles and behavior with powerful microscopes that have been described in numerous peer reviewed papers.

    She informed me that E Coli have a nasty characteristic of colonizing in roots and foliage of plants in additions to contaminating surfaces of their hosts. So protective measures applied to the surfaces of fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry will not protect against spores or colonies established in hosts. I also presume that you know that refrigeration will not kill bacteria spores.

    I believe that you have over simplified complex situations. based upon your lack of essential information and data. I am concerned that German public health officials and regulators may be behind the scientific regarding knowledge about E Coli and other bacteria. On the other hand, I am not a scientist and may not have a clear understanding of my daughter’s research.

    Although I am reluctant to disclose my daughter’s name or that of her husband who is also a professor at the same university where each of them operate separate labs. However, if parties with legitimate interests contact Pierre, I will provide him with their contact information after obtaining their permission.

    1. DirkH

      Paddy, if she has published a paper she’s already a public figure and willing to stand up for her research with her name. I’d be very interested in that paper…

  9. Verity Jones

    Paddy,
    I suspect you may be confusing several different aspects of your daughter’s work since professors often have several different strands of research.

    Lack of spore formation is one of the defining characteristics of E.coli
    “E. Coli or escherichia coli are gram negative, rod shaped, motile or non motile, non spore producing, facultative anaerobic bacteria”

    I am open to new science challenging my knowledge, however I’d be very surprised to learn I am wrong here.

  10. DirkH

    While we’re talking about organic farming… i stumbled across a test of various brands of balsamico. German; not too important,
    http://www.test.de/themen/essen-trinken/test/Balsamico-Der-grosse-Bluff-4239878-4243691/
    but:
    ” In Sachen Schadstoffe fallen ausgerechnet die Bioessige durch erhöhte Kupfergehalte auf. Kupfer wird als alternatives Pflanzenschutzmittel im Ökolandbau eingesetzt. ”
    “Regarding pollutants, especially the organic balsamico brands have elevated levels of copper. Copper is used as an alternative to conventional pesticides in organic farming.”
    Unfortunately the article doesn’t define “elevated”; it’s more of a teaser so you buy the magazine with the complete test results.

    A google search for “Bio Kupfer” yields many hits. While modern pesticides are reduced by microbes, copper isn’t and will get enriched in the soil over time.

  11. DirkH

    Several German papers have reported that in the case of sprouts, E Coli might get inside the sprout and multiply there so you might end up with sprouts brimming with bacteria; four sprouts might suffice to infect a person. So rinsing them doesn’t help…

    so, disregarding the “spores” dispute, Paddy was right about that.

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