The Oligodynamic Effect, Waste Disposal (maybe), and my Constant Struggle to keep up with newer Antibiotics

I commented on an article in Bridgemi that encourages the recycling of electronics;

The lingo used in this article is some sort of shibboleth; “ As we fire through the latest and greatest devices faster than ever – cell phones, tablets, TVs, laptops and more – it is critical that consumers, businesses, and communities safely recycle their toxic tech.” It might be poetry, but only aspires to English prose.


Economically, recycling in the USA is generally pointless. As was pointed out (I think), general household trash needs government subsidies and the only participants are fervent environmentalists from the 1970s, innumerate still mumbling about their messiah.

Nonetheless, there is a point lurking here about toxic heavy metals that goes beyond poisoning lakes and pregnant women. I think of it as being part of the “oligodynamic effect.” This has been detailed in numerous environmental and microbiology articles of which I cite a recent one

It seems that essentially all of the heavy metals, especially silver and mercury act like antibiotics that select antibiotic resistant strains of micro-organisms. If one samples bacteria from an environment, say a field of corn, where there has never been contamination with metals, the bacteria will generally be sensitive to our usual antibiotics. On the other hand, soil or tailings near a tin or lead mine, etc. contain microbes that are resistant to not only heavy metals, but also antibiotics like tetracycline or streptomycin drugs. These effects leading to these resistant strains result from almost vanishingly tiny concentrations of metals, concentrations that might result in water and soil exposed to the mercury emissions from coal burning power plants or the disposal of electronics.

Antibiotic use in the veterinary and medical fields probably does not lead to the production of the genetic elements that lead to antibiotic resistance, that is to say, Darwin’s spontaneous generation does not occur in hospitals. However, Darwin’s other principle, survival of the fittest, plays out in farms and health care facilities. Antibiotic use as well as the tiny amounts of heavy metals that bleed into the environments of farms and modern hospitals does select out resistant strains that come in from the environment, so leading to the clinical problems of failing antibiotic effectiveness and the increasing need for newer and more expensive medications to treat these tougher strains of disease causing germs.

I’d agree that we need to recycle our electronics along with discouraging coal burning. (I don’t know what happens when I turn my cellphone back to MetroPCS next week for a new one, but I trust that a major name brand would dispose of it responsibly.)

Once these metals get loose, there is no way of getting them back. And there are consequences beyond the usual boiler plate stuff cited in this article that greatly increase the costs of medical care.

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