2013 Conference of the International Medical Geology Association (25–29 August 2013)

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 11:00 AM


WOLFF, Robert J. and STEWART-AKERS, Ann M., Health Science, South University, 9 Science Court, Columbia, SC 29203, rwolff@southuniversity.edu

While studying the capabilities of biosurveillance using paper currency as a fomite carrier of pathogenic bacteria we encountered a highly different flora from dollar bills collected in a beach community. These samples were almost entirely Bacillus colonies. Samples of sand from beaches, dunes and inland sandhills have all revealed large numbers of recoverable Bacillus from samples at the surface and down through depths of one meter. The samples were heated to temperatures of 88 degrees C to kill vegetatively growing bacteria, then sampled using normal saline to extract endospores which were then plated onto Nutrient Agar for growth. A sample from sand beneath a creek resulted in the recovery of only 1 or 2 CFU’s per sample.

There are several implications of these findings: 1) the increased incidence of gastrointestinal disease of beach goers who dug in the sand may be due to Bacillus (such as B. cereus or even Clostridium difficile); 2) wind storms may spread a variety of endospore pathogens into populations increasing disease rates; 3) there is a potential that enemies may use contaminated sand against our military/civilian populations (blowing sand or light dust from sand into faces); 4) even genetically modified endospore forming organisms may be added to sand to increase the spread of more dangerous organisms, especially those capable of pulmonary infections. Other preliminary experiments indicate a potential that endospores may be able to be formed into powders using the process that occurs naturally in sand soils. This indicates the possibility that a new method of ‘weaponizing’ anthrax or other endospore forming organisms is available by utilizing natural methods.