The Right to Self-Defense from Brevard's Harmful Sewage Spills and Poor Water Quality

BREVARD COUNTY, FL - It seems like every time we turn around in Brevard County, there's another sewage spill. There's another community outraged or another government board that tries to dismiss or deny responsibility and the level of caution that should be taken in such events. There have been two separate incidents where 7.3 Million gallons of sewage were released or spilled in the past two years. One was a spill in Titusville, Florida, that just happened to be right before a massive “mortality event” that left hundreds of manatee carcasses on the shorelines of the Indian River Lagoon.

The second was a release of 7.3 million gallons of “treated” sewage into the Banana River in Cocoa Beach, Florida. These are just the big ones; there were multiple smaller releases and/or spills throughout the same timeframe.

It seems pretty safe to say that most people realize they should not swim in or eat fish out of the water where there's been sewage dumped or spilled. Yet visitors, locals, pets, children, and adults spend time recreating in Brevard County's waterways in the Indian River Lagoon despite the excrement in the water. Is that because the population and all of the visitors to our tourist-enticing events and attractions are generally unaware of the dangers?

Multiple sewage spills over the last couple of years on top of hurricanes that prompt wastewater releases, in combination with countless septic systems in our neighborhoods, are continually adding to the poo problems that we have in our water.

So, what are the risks? Most people are somewhat aware of harmful bacteria, but what else could you be exposed to? What are the symptoms? Can you catch a disease or even spread it to others by being exposed to sewage?

According to the Nation Institute on Health, “human bacterial pathogens in wastewater include Salmonella, Escherichia, Shigella, Yersinia, Klebsiella, Leptospira, Vibrio cholerae, Aeromonas hydrophila, Legionella pneumophila, Mycobacterium, and Pseudomona”.

Symptoms of Salmonella and Escherichia can include diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, dysentery, and gastroenteritis. Bloody stool has been reported in about half of the cases of Escherichia.

Yersiniosis is the diagnosis if infected with the Yersinia bacteria and has many of the same symptoms. The CDC reports that there are about 35 deaths per year from this particular bacteria.

Klebsiella infections can produce symptoms of fever, chills, redness, swelling, pain, drainage or pus-seeping wounds, coughing, or chest pain. Sometimes referred to as a “superbug,” and has been associated with debilitating issues in the brain, eyes, blood, liver, and bladder and even causing death.

Leptospira exposure symptoms include high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and skin rashes. In the first stages of exposure, a patient may have a mistaken diagnosis as the symptoms tend to be lesser at first. If not treated properly, the second stage of exposure is commonly a major health issue, such as liver failure, kidney failure, or meningitis.

Vibrio cholerae causes Cholera. This disease causes diarrhea, vomiting, thirst, leg cramps, and irritability. Other symptoms can include low blood pressure, dry mucous membranes, rapid heart rate, and severe dehydration that can lead to kidney failure. Cholera is fatal if untreated.

Aeromonas hydrophila is known as one of the main pathogens in fish and other marine life. The results of exposure can be severe. Acute gastrointestinal illness, septicemia (blood poisoning), and organ failure. This particular pathogen has been known to be antibiotic resistant.

Legionnaires disease is caused by exposure to Legionella pneumophila. When this bacteria attaches to water droplets, they can be aerated into the air we breathe or swallowed when recreating in the water. Legionnaires disease is a grave type of pneumonia with symptoms that include cough, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches, fever, nausea, and diarrhea. About 15% of patients who get Legionnaires die from the infection.

Nontuberculous Mycobacterial Infection is broad terminology for a group of illnesses identified by exposure to mycobacteria. The most prevalent symptoms include cough, fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, shortness of breath, coughing up blood, boils, and ulcerations. Humans are exposed to mycobacteria through drinking, swimming in, bathing in, or breathing aerosolized bacteria that have gone airborne. This bacteria can cause serious health effects by attacking the liver, kidneys, and spine.

As if that information is not enough to make you question your Brevard County aquatic activities, there are parasites like whipworm, an intestinal worm that lays eggs that turn into roundworms and can easily pass from human to human from a simple handshake, and Ecoli, in which can cause dysentery (frequent, tiny bowel movements with blood and mucous and or pain while using the bathroom), ulcers, and fever. 

Hepatitis A, all of the chemicals involved in sewage treatment, and the pharmaceuticals humans pass along into our waste stream are in wastewater as well.

It took about an hour to gather all of the information needed to write this article. Our state, city, and county officials have plenty of access to the same information and more. They have the ability to assemble teams of experts, disseminate tons of information to large groups of people, and even access signs and people to make them as well as post them. They can even activate emergency services and shut down areas where the public may be exposed to harm. They have that power. In the age of information on a coastline that houses advanced technology for all mankind, it is baffling to many that Brevard County, Florida is not innovating or implementing the most cutting-edge technology to manage our waste. Even more, puzzling for residents is why there is seemingly a blatant lack of action to warn tourists and residents when a known source of illness or injury is present in our waters. Many advocates feel that careless, arbitrary postings of warnings and a lack of effort to communicate dangers place the public in a position where they are restricted from exercising their right to protect themselves from harm. What do you think?

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