Saturday, February 28, 2009
What Else Can You Do With a Used Placenta?
Illinois mystery: Placentas found in sewage system
Published - Feb 26 2009
By C.D.SOPONSON - Associated Press Hack
Someone is disposing of placentas in a central Illinois sewage system and authorities want it to stop. Workers in Urbana on Thursday found a placenta in a filter that keeps large objects out of the sewage treatment plant _ the third such find this year. So police have enlisted medical experts. "It was one of the weirdest calls I've ever received," said J. Purdy, who heads the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Urbana Police Lt. Blank Space remembered: "She said, 'You found a WHAT in the WHERE?'"
The unprecedented finds have officials wondering if a midwife or veterinarian, stressed by economic woes, has been avoiding the expense of paying for a medical waste disposal service.
Police aren't aiming for an arrest, Space said, and nobody suspects foul play. The umbilical cords, still attached, were cut clean.
Placentas are potentially infectious, although health officials said the risk to the public is low. They just want the dumping to stop and hope publicity will achieve that. They are keen on solving the "great placenta mystery," as it has been dubbed by a number of brain dead people.
Storm sewers and toilets drain to the system, so those seem to be the likeliest routes, Purdy said, "but I don't think my personal toilet at home would be able to flush a placenta. Maybe I'm wrong and should try one out."
Champaign County Coroner L.J. Badweed, Jr., said the placentas could be from home births, but he's not ruling out hospitals. "He should not rule out back alleys either," said a spokesman for Midnight Body Parts, Inc., which specializes in the harvesting of difficult to obtain body parts, such as kidneys, to be sold on the black market. "There is not much demand for placentas," said a company spokesman. "You can pick those up for a song at any waste treatment plant."
"We don't believe these placentas were specimens kept for research or testing," Badweed said. "They appear to be fairly fresh, so to speak."
A state police lab detected human DNA in the first placenta tested, Badweed said. But since the sewage system is full of human DNA, he's waiting for results of more tests his pathologists are conducting on the two others found.
The placenta is an organ that joins mother and fetus and is expelled during birth. Officials don't believe there have been any deaths, the coroner said, and it's likely the babies are healthy.
State regulations allow parents to keep their baby's placenta, said state Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Melinda Carbona. Some parents may want them for a post-birth ritual, she said. Another, not too common practice, but practiced by some nut case parents, is to keep the placenta and give it to the child when she or he is old enough to appreciate it. It certainly would be a show-stopper for "show and tell" at school. The placentas may be dried and kept on a bookshelf, used as a paper weight, or given to the family dog as a chew toy.
"But it is never acceptable to put placenta into the sewer system," Carbona said. "Never."
Carbona, and no one else at the EPA could provide a real good explanation why placentas should not be flushed. Most OB-GYN's suggest to women who have a fetus that dies, that they flush the fetus and any accompanying afterbirth down their toilets. These placenta appear to be receiving special treatment, which raises a Fourteenth Admendment issue of equal protection for all placenta. Should certain placenta be denied access to the public sewer system while others are encouraged to take that route. "It just isn't fair," said someone with no involvement and no familiarity with the facts.
A placental rights expert, and part-time instructor at the Bethaney Junior Baptist Sunday School Training Center in Central Arkansas, said this is one of those issues which ultimately will have to be decided by the Supreme Court. "As constitutional rights are extended to fertilized eggs, to hearts, kidneys and other body organs, it is only logical that placenta should be considered, too," said the expert, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being being flushed down a public sewer system herself. "Emotions run high when it comes to the disposal of afterbirth," she remarked. "There are groups out there who believe placentas should have the same rights as the fetus because they serve as the principal nurturing system for the unborn child until gestation; then they are just flushed down the toilet, like urine or feces. They probably are more important to the unborn fetus than the mother, who is never flushed down a toilet." said the expert.