Flesh-eating bacteria absolutely terrifying

July 11, 2019

For many, remembering scenes from the movie “Jaws” is what keeps them from the ocean. Now, not only do we have to worry about riptides, megalithic sharks with a taste for human flesh, and whatever other creatures may lurk in the deep - we have to worry about flesh-eating bacteria: necrotizing fasciitis, Vibrio vulnificus. Frankly, this scares me much, much more than anything else in those waters with the ability to kill. 
What’s worse is that we are creating this problem via gross negligence. We flush toilets and simply watch our effluvium disappear. But where does it go? Certainly, we haven’t voted on bills that allow this type of waste to make it into the waters just off our beautiful beaches. Certainly, we wouldn’t recklessly pump poop right into our bays and other waterways. Well, unfortunately, that is where the majority of it goes. 
Not that long ago, say about 14 months ago, Henlopen Avenue, right here in town, was torn up while pipe was laid and connected to an ocean outfall shooting about a mile off Deauville Beach. This ocean outfall was constructed to dispose of the area’s “treated” wastewater. The same water that was too polluted to continue being disposed of in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal. Now, just a year later, we are being warned of flesh-eating bacteria in our inland waterways and just off our beaches. Coincidence? 
There is no doubt in my mind that there are many other components to this life-threatening issue, but I feel that we all would be naïve if we were to deny the fact that this outfall may be influencing and greatly increasing the severity of the issue. According to the information I can access on this project, the effluent is treated to the nationally accepted standard to dispose of wastewater in the ocean. Although all solids are removed and the remaining liquid is treated, it still retains an abundance of nitrogen and phosphorous.

And, once again, just so this sinks in, this is the same water that the city was not allowed to keep dumping in the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal because it was too polluted. 

Nitrogen and phosphorous are the two primary nutrients that give vegetation the ability to grow.

Let me see if I can break this down quickly and simply. The effluvium being dumped in the canal was feeding the algae in such great quantities that it was growing out of control. As more and more algae was growing, it blocked the sunlight from reaching other integral vegetation within our inland waterways, vegetation that produces oxygen that not only keeps aquatic life alive but helps clean the water.

Sure, algae does produce oxygen; after all, it is a plant. However, it does not produce nearly as much as the top underwater producer: phytoplankton. Algae blocks the phytoplankton from the sun during the day, inhibiting photosynthesis. At night, algae respires like animals do and releases carbon dioxide, drastically changing the pH levels of the water. In turn, this reaction kills other plant and animal life. Dead vegetation rots beneath the cloud of algae and increases the temperature of the water, as well as the activity and growth of deadly bacteria. 

The justification for the outfall being safer in the ocean is that the ocean is a much larger body of water than our inland waterways. The nitrogen and phosphorous, in theory, will spread out in such a way that they won’t furnish the rapid growth of algae.

I’m no expert on environmental science, but it seems pretty clear to me that reasoning such as the aforementioned is horribly flawed.

Maybe we are seeing effects of this outfall now; maybe we aren’t. Regardless, we will certainly see the effects in the future. Just like we didn’t immediately see the effects in our inland waterways. 

Our planet is in despair. As more and more of us inhabit it, we have to become more and more creative with the ways we dispose of our waste. Deregulation of environmental protection acts will be the death of us. The stuff we eat, digest, and poop out is going to eat us! That is absolutely terrifying. The death of humanity may come by way of some perverse, self-indulgent cannibalism. 

Saving money sounds as great to me as the next person. Nevertheless, I don’t want it to be done in such a fashion that cuts corners and allows my own waste - or yours - to eat me. 

Michael Marciano
Rehoboth Beach


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