A Message to Our Members About Superbugs in Wastewater

To Our Members:

We at Heal the Ocean have read the March 7, 2016 Los Angeles Times article “Deadly superbugs from hospitals get strong in the sewers and could end up in the Pacific Ocean.” We have also read the repeat of this story in the March 9, 2016 Santa Barbara News-Press with the headline “Superbug in sewage puts surfers’ health at risk.”

At Heal the Ocean we agree that EVERYTHING should be applied to wastewater treatment – microfiltration, U/V, Reverse Osmosis, the works. We advocated for tertiary treatment back in 2001, long before it became a popular way to think.

As for hospital discharge to wastewater treatment plants: when Cottage Hospital was going through the City of Santa Barbara Planning Commission process for rebuilding some years ago, we asked the Commission to require a pre-treatment system be added and installed in the garage, to pre-treat wastewater before it leaves the hospital. Gasps were heard around the room, and of course it didn’t happen.

We have since rattled cages about hospitals being classified as Industrial Waste Dischargers - meaning they have to pre-treat (reverse osmosis, microfiltration and U/V etc.) before sending it down to the wastewater plant. We have not given up on this idea.

But finally, it should be noted about the Los Angeles Times article that there is no mention of ANY testing of wastewater that has been treated/leaves the plant. The title states Deadly superbugs from hospitals….COULD end up in the Pacific Ocean…” It also states, “…EPA scientists did not test treated wastewater flowing out of the plant to determine whether it still contained CRE, or carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae…”

Could” and “may” are liberally used throughout this article. There are facts that are true about hospital waste. There are facts that are true about CRE. There are facts that are true about everything stated in the article. But nowhere in this piece of writing is news about any scientist or researcher making a connection between one thing and another. It should be noted that wastewater treatment plants use far more than chlorine in treating wastewater.

YES this issue must be studied – and Heal the Ocean not only researches all scientific literature on this subject, but has attended, and made input, to standards of testing being applied to wastewater discharge. We have been to countless hearings and made input about upgrading – and finally we are hiring consultants to access Prop 1 funding for wastewater treatment plants in Santa Barbara County to upgrade with microfiltration, U/V reverse osmosis – the works. As you read this, a number of south coast wastewater treatment plants are on their way to upgrading all the way, as is a wastewater facility in Santa Ynez.

Heal the Ocean doesn’t condone sloppy wastewater treatment. But we also don’t condone the sloppy insinuations made in the Los Angeles Times story. Nevertheless, this publicity makes our case stronger for getting hospitals classified as Industrial Waste Dischargers and therefore having to pre-treat their waste before sending it down to the treatment plant.

And it makes our case stronger for getting wastewater out of the ocean, period.

Thanks for reading,


Hillary Hauser, Executive Director