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Janesville committee split on deer disposal

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Catherine W. Idzerda
December 2, 2009
— A $250,000 UW-Madison study shows that CWD residue in landfills doesn’t pose a risk.

But half of the Sustainable Janesville Committee isn’t so sure and would like the city to explore other options.


On Tuesday night, after a presentation by a UW-Madison researcher and a Department of Natural Resources animal disposable specialist, the committee voted 3-3 to recommend that the city council enter into an indemnification agreement allowing deer carcasses into the landfill.


Council member Frank Perrotto broke the tie with a “yes” vote. A tie vote is the only time the council member on the committee casts a vote.


At issue is what to do with deer carcasses from this part of the state, where chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is most prevalent.


One answer is to dump them in the landfill, with special disposal procedures. That’s what the Janesville city landfill does, according to a city department of public works memo.


The DNR offered the city a way to protect itself from lawsuits if the disease from the landfill harms someone in the future with a special indemnification agreement.


Which leads to the question: If there’s no danger, why does the city need an agreement?


“The folks that are entering into this agreement get an additional level of comfort,” said Adam Hogan, hydrogeologist and the DNR specialist in the area of dead animal disposal. “The agreement will be signed by the secretary of the DNR and the governor of the state—those are powerful and important signatures.”


The other answer is to have the DNR collect the carcasses and dispose of them through extremely high temperature incineration or through a chemical process called alkaline digestion.


Sustainable Janesville committee member Julie Backenkeller would like the city to explore those options.


Both of those processes are much more expensive than landfilling.


No case of CWD being transmitted to humans has been confirmed, but scientists have not ruled out the possibility.


It is known that the malformed proteins called prions that cause CWD remain active in the soil.


The UW-Madison study simulated a landfill over 50 years and found zero prions at the bottom of a simulated landfill soil column. The prions actually traveled less than an inch through the soil.


At the Janesville landfill, deer carcasses are buried in a “soil envelope” that surrounds them, Hogan explained.


The issue will come before the city council Dec. 14.



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