Deer could end up in sewer

May 7, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Samara Kalk
The state Department of Natural Resources plans to dump 15,000 deer carcasses from the chronic wasting disease eradication program into the Dane County landfill, an official says.

But if the federal government provides two tissue digesting machines, some of those carcasses may be turned to liquid and put down the sewer.

"At this point the plan still is to heavily use landfills for disposal, mostly because we currently don't have a lot of other options," DNR wildlife veterinarian Julie Langenberg said Monday.

The DNR is looking for other disposal options and has requested two tissue digesters from the federal government. Tissue digesters are the safest and most efficient way of disposing of CWD-infected animals, Langenberg said. The machines also carry a hefty price tag of close to $1 million apiece.

The $945,000 systems use a combination of heat and chemical digestion to reduce the whole animal down to a tiny volume of safe liquid material, she said.

The remainder can then be emptied into any sewer system that other kinds of completely safe material can go into, said Langenberg.

Requests for the devices went to the federal government through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Legislature.

In the meantime, landfills are the best option, she said. "It's a safe thing to do."

The Dane County landfill is safe because it is a fully lined, capped landfill, she said.

The landfill is located just east of Madison on Highway 12-18, on the way to Cambridge about a mile past Interstate 90. It is across from Yahara Hills Golf Course but is not visible from the road.

Potentially infected material from the deer that ends up in the landfill is not destroyed, but it is contained, said Langenberg. "It's not going to go anywhere where another deer can be affected."

The first 500-plus deer killed and tested to determine the scope of chronic wasting disease were sent to the Dane County landfill.

Langenberg said that when landowners and other hunters begin a DNR effort to eliminate all deer from the 287-square-mile eradication zone, those 15,000 deer will be disposed of there as well.

"That's the current plan. Part of the preparation for this new phase of culling animals is confirming with our partners in the county what the capacity of the Dane County landfill is and also looking into other landfill sites if we need them."

The county's solid Waste and Recycling Commission will meet Thursday and its chairman has asked that the deer-landfill issue be put on the agenda so the panel can find out what the county has done to look at safety issues.

"My personal reaction is that the county should take every step it can to make sure this is a safe way of disposing of these carcasses," David Austin, chairman of the commission, said this morning.

The county has a responsibility to make sure disposing of deer in the landfill is safe.

"It's a new issue to me and I think it probably is to the other members of the commission, so we need more information at this point before we can say whether it is safe, and if it's not safe, what steps we can take to make it safe," Austin said.

The DNR may also do CWD-testing on all the deer killed in the massive hunt.

"It's possible," Langenberg said. "At this point what we are looking to do is sample all the deer -- every deer we can get our hands on."

The Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is committed to developing at least one type of testing and there are at least three other labs that are gearing up to begin testing, she said.

If the tissue digesters arrive, one will be located at the state diagnostic lab, where it could handle the wild deer being harvested. It would also be available for deer farm cases that need to be handled. The second one would be mounted on a tractor-trailer and taken anywhere in the state.

"The value of that is that if we did find another site of CWD infection, whether it was in wild deer or in a deer farm, we could take the digester right to that site and dispose of the deer right there," Langenberg said.

"We wouldn't have to truck (the deer) across the state, so we would reduce the risk of contamination as animals are moved around."

A critic of the state's approach to chronic wasting disease, retired veterinarian John Barnes, called the plans to use the county landfill "disastrous" and "negligent."

The protein, a prion, that causes chronic wasting disease, is nearly indestructible and will persist and leach out of any sort of structure, he said today.

"There would have to be an extremely specifically built container for this material if it was to be disposed of in that manner. There's just no conceivable way to destroy this disease other than an extremely high temperature crematorium," said Barnes, a wildlife advocate who lives on a 200-acre wildlife sanctuary in rural Verona not far from where the CWD-infected deer were discovered.

"This is a very known fact. They are basically going against what little science and knowledge is available on this disease."

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