Whatever Happened to Tommy Schultz?

30 Dec

Everything You Will Ever Want to Know About Disease-producing Anaerobic and Aerobic Bacteria, and How to Get Rid of Them 2003 Update of speech by Robert Laing at the National Convention of CLEAN-FLO Dealers, Orlando Florida, 1980. Copyright 1980, 2003

Introduction: I asked this question twenty-three years ago in 1980, when I conducted this study. I am asking it again now, because almost every lake, river and reservoir in the world is much more polluted today than it was then. Many lakes had a 5 – 35 percent reduction in phosphorus and nitrogen since 1980 as a result of nutrient diversion or abatement. This is only a small percentage of over 600,000 polluted lakes in the United States today. These treated lakes and all non-treated lakes continued to deteriorate as a result of leaves, stormwater and watershed runoff, dust, pollen, bird droppings and oxygen depletions that result in fish kills and release massive quantities of phosphorus and nitrogen from the sediment. Unfortunately, no information on Tommy Schultz’s problem could be found today. Only one report of the problem can be found on the Internet using Google, and that is a mention of the problem by a city council member, not a scientist, on a river in Texas. Trophic State Indices are grossly misleading indicators of the trophic state of a lake. These indicators look only at planktonic algae. If a lake is inundated with aquatic weeds and filamentous algae, the trophic state indicators will indicate that the lake is in good to excellent condition. A true Trophic State Index would take into account coliform bacteria, aquatic macrophytes (weeds), filamentous algae, bottom oxygen, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, organic content of the sediment and fish kills as well as the algal content. The attached two photos are of two Minneapolis lakes that have received millions of dollars a year for the past thirty years in treatments of all sorts by the scientific community. Their present “trophic state” as claimed by these scientists is very good, and is improved greatly since 1980. Obviously, you would not want to swim, fish, boat or stick your big toe into either of these lakes. So do not be fooled into thinking our lakes, rivers or reservoirs are in better condition than they were twenty-three years ago.

The Problem: On Friday, July 25th, 1980, six-year old Tommy Schultz complained of a bad headache and began vomiting. This was followed by excruciating pain. By Monday he slipped into a deep lethargy. On Tuesday he went into a coma and on the following Friday he was dead. Tommy had been swimming in Grant Lake near Cocoa Beach, Florida. Tommy and his friends were diving to the bottom of the lake and would bring up a handful of muck to show the others that they had reached the bottom. While swimming, an amoeba, Naegleria spp., crawled up Tommy’s nose and burrowed into his brain, causing what is called amoebic meningoencephalitis. Of the fifty-five confirmed cases in the world prior to 1980, only one person survived. Only six other persons had been known to die of this disease in Florida’s entire history; but by the end of the month, four children were dead from the same disease contracted in four different Florida lakes in four different counties. One of the lakes was at Disney World, an establishment catering to millions of tourists. Brevard County has about one thousand of the fifteen thousand lakes in Florida. Only twelve lakes were tested that summer and they were all approved for swimming. Table 1 lists these lakes and the coliform bacteria counts taken. Most health authorities nationwide, including Brevard County, allow 1,000 coliform organisms per 100 ml of water as the maximum allowable level. All but two of these lakes were at 1000/100ml or greater. Table 1. Coliform bacteria levels in 12 sanctioned Brevard County swimming lakes in 1980.


Coliform level (MPN/100)

Clear Lake


Camp Biblia

900 – 1,000

Wickham Park Lake

2,000 – 4,300

Wickham Park, back lake


Police Foundation Park


Max K. Rhodes Lake


Kneckt Park


Port Malabar Park

1,500 – 7,700

Valkeria Park


Grant Lake

1,000 – 5,000

Long Point Recreation Lake

2,500 – 10,200

Micco Park Lake

1,200 – 30,000

Little Hollywood Lake


On September 2, 1980, Nancy Cooper of Palm Bay wrote to the Cocoa, Florida newspaper, pleading that all dangerous lakes be closed. Her child had just contracted a Salmonella infection at Wickham Park Lake (Table 1).

County officials had earlier announced that Naegleria were probably present in all of the Brevard County lakes and probably in most of Florida’s lakes. Only two years earlier, Tyndall, et al (1978) found no growth of Naegleria fowleri in water samples taken from lakes in Florida or Texas, other than those associated with warm water from power plants or water cooling towers. The amoeba required the elevated temperatures associated with these artificial structures. In contrast, in 1980 about 10,000 lakes in Florida and Georgia were infected.

Increase of Pathogenic Bacteria from 1978 to 1980:

Data is not available on the alarming increase of pathogenic bacteria in 1980. Most lakes are seldom, if ever tested. When coliform counts are found high, the information is often hidden or ignored by health authorities. High coliform counts do not normally reach the newspapers unless someone dies or becomes violently ill. Most high bacteria sewage discharges such as sewage treatment plant overflows during heavy rains are simply reported as sewage dumps. Often lake pollution and bacterial levels are not reported or monitored after the dumps.

Most of the lakes I have tested over the years had excessively high coliform counts, even though the beaches were open for swimming. Holiday Lake at Willard, Ohio had counts taken by the county as high as 120,000. When I wrote to the county, city and state health officials asking why the beaches were open, my letters were not answered and the beaches remained open. In 1980 and earlier, Lake Apopka in Florida had not total coliform levels, but Staphylococcus levels as high as 300,000 /100 ml; yet the lake was not closed to swimming, even though swimmers consistently came out of the water with carbuncles all over their bodies. The commonly accepted maximum level of Staphylococcus is 200/100 ml. When residents of Brevard County, Florida were told that Tommy Schultz had died and that most of the lakes in Brevard County had Naegleria, they continued swimming because the newspapers assured them that more people die each year from shark attacks. While complete data was not available, I had a data system of my own. Even though most high bacteria counts are never publicized or even known, I received nationwide newspaper clippings on many lakes having problems from 1978 to 1980. How accurate is the newspaper clipping method of data analysis? Black, (1975) reporting on all outbreaks of water-borne disease in the United States in 1975 cited only 24 outbreaks, affecting 10,879 people. This compares reasonably with the 24 news reports I received in 1978.

Here are the lakes reported to have bacterial problems in 1978: Twenty lakes in a 2.5 square mile community of Medford Lakes, New Jersey underwent a struggle to keep open to swimmers, with the bacteria on the winning side; Botulism killed 1,100 ducks on Smith Lake near Portland, Oregon and 11,381 ducks at Lake Mckenna near Napolean, North Dakota; Silver Lake at Dover, Delaware was closed when the fecal count hit 11,000, 55 times the “safe” level; Lake Moultrie in southern South Carolina was found to still contain Naegleria, the amoeba that killed an 8-year old boy in the same lake the year before; The swimming beaches at Belleville Lake in Belleville, Michigan were closed due to high bacterial counts. Studies showed the mean levels doubling each year since 1976. These reports are far from inclusive. Actual lakes having bacterial problems would surely be in the tens of thousands. However, the same methods were used for recording information from each year. It is my opinion that the ratio of the number of reports recovered is representative of the increase in lakes having problems in 1980.

To continue, the following problems were identified in 1979: One thousand, five hundred ducks died from botulism at Devils Lake in North Dakota; Rainy Lake water at International Falls, a northern Minnesota lake in a forested area, was declared unfit for human consumption because the coliform level was too numerous to count; The town beaches were closed at Southbury and at Monroe, Connecticut due to total coliform counts of 4,200 and 1,400 respectively, while the beach at Shady Rest, Connecticut was kept open with a count of 6,400; The swimming area at Crystal Lake in Polk County, Florida was closed due to high coliform counts and a lake at Sebastian was closed after several people reported sore throats, runny noses and other ailments. 1980: In contrast, we have reports of 50 percent of all lakes in Florida and Georgia containing Naegleria in 1980, approximately 10,000 or more. Four deaths occurred in Florida, a salmonella infection in Florida and 12 lakes in Brevard County (the only ones tested) remained open for swimming in 1980 even though the bacterial levels were dangerously high. Two lakes in Orlando, Florida, Lake Underhill and Lake Davis were closed because of a sewage dump. Lake McGarity and Lake Gleason in Volusia County, Florida closed to swimming because of high bacterial counts. So far, we have only looked at Florida in 1980. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Let us now look at the rest of the nation. Also reported in 1980 were the following: Health officials at Danbury, Connecticut changed the standards so that residents could swim in Candlewood Lake when the count exceeds 1,000/100 ml; Lake Zoar and Pomeraug River in Southbury, Connecticut were reopened after coliform levels dropped to 400/100 ml at one site while other sites still registered 2,000 – 2,500/100 ml; Lake Welsh in Rockland, New York’s Harrison State park was closed when 46 swimmers became ill. The disease was caused by Shigella, a group of microorganisms that causes dysentery with symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting and cramps. The Welch Lake shigellosis outbreak in 1980 may be compared to all cases reported comprehensively from 1961 to 1975, a period of 14 years. Only two outbreaks were attributed to swimming in contaminated water during that period (Black, et al., 1978). The organism is normally contracted from feces. In New York, thousands of fish died from myxosporidian, a parasite that was found in the brains of perch and walleye; Thirty ducks died of botulism at Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota; 17 at Barker Lake in Rolling Meadows, Illinois; 5,000 ducks at Lake Ander, South Dakota and 17 ducks at a lake at Richland College in Richardson, Texas; Thirty swimmers suffered from nausea, diarrhea and headaches at Shepard Lake in Ringwood, New Jersey before the lake was closed; Swimming was banned at Valley Lake in Lake County, Illinois due to high bacteria levels. In McHenry County, Wonder Lake, Lake in the Hills, Lake Killarney, Griswald Lake, Lakemoor Lake, Crystal Lake, Timber Lake and several beaches along the Fox River were posted as unsafe for swimming; In Chicago, 15 beaches were closed on Lake Michigan because of high bacteria levels and globs of raw, floating sewage. This was the most closings ever recorded for Chicago; At Lake Nixon near Little Rock, Arkansas, swimming was banned after a child contracted meningitis in the lake; Fish were killed in Lake Mitchell at Mitchell, South Dakota by the bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila. High bacteria levels at Lake Metogoshe, North Dakota caused state officials to speculate that the lake would not sustain life after 1995; Kearsley Lake in Genesee Township, Michigan was closed when 100,000 gallons of untreated sewage entered the lake due to a sewage pump malfunction; And finally, water drawn from Lake Marble Falls at Marble Falls, Texas and processed for drinking water caused gastroenteritis with over 350 residents. The entire town was given gamma globulin shots to prevent a hepatitis epidemic. In summary, we received reports on 24 lakes in 1978, seven lakes in 1979 and 63 lakes in 1980. This does not include about 10,000 lakes in various reports that all of the Brevard County, Florida lakes and half of all lakes in Florida and Georgia contain Naegleria. The method used for this analysis was crude, to be sure. I have witnessed many dead ducks from botulism that were never reported in the news media. At the time of my study, it was too early to receive comprehensive reports of pathogenic outbreaks in 1980. A comprehensive study of past outbreaks would require several years of study but a simple graph of trends would be enlightening. I believe enough reports were made via the newspapers to give a strong indication that an alarming outbreak of pathogenic bacteria did occur in 1980. If the trend has continued, this country may face some perilous times and Tommy Schultz and ten thousand lakes in only Florida and Georgia may not become a forgotten statistic.

Pathogenic Bacteria Since 1980: While almost nothing has been published on Naegleria since 1980 other than a councilman’s report, I am convinced by the increased pollution of almost all lakes that Naegleria incidence has probably increased. A search for coliform bacteria in lakes on the Internet today will produce about four or five thousand results. While it may contain more reports than just newspapers, only a few newspapers are published on the Internet. Yet the Internet results are considerably more than the inclusive search of the nation’s newspapers produced in 1978 – 1980. Naegleria must have organic sediment to grow. Almost every lake in the world has much more organic sediment today than they had in 1980. As mentioned earlier, a lake with extensive aquatic macrophyte (weed) growth has a good to excellent Trophic State Index. An excellent description of this problem can be found in “Review of reported faecal pollution of Lake Burley Griffin”, March/April 2001published by the National Capital Authority, Commonwealth of Australia. This article describes a lake inundated with macrophytes. Turbidity, chlorophyll-a, total nitrogen and total phosphorus averaged 50 percent less than the average values from 1993 to 2000. With all this good news, E. coli was measured at the astronomical level of 330,000 cfu/100 ml. Stormwater runoff typically has 3000 – 5000 cfu/100 ml. To reach a level of 330,000 from incoming sewage, an entire sewage treatment plant for a large city would have to dump into the lake. Similarly, 300 million 1 kg (2.2 lb.) birds would be needed to produce such a level. Obviously, with all that good water quality, the lake itself rather than influent sewage was breeding the bacteria. Most pathogenic bacteria require low or zero oxygen levels and a nutrient broth to multiply.

Conclusion: Surely the incidence of Naegleria has increased since 1980. It is understandable that if Brevard County and most of Florida shut down all their lakes for swimming, tourism would plummet and public outcry would explode. It is also highly probable that bacteria levels in almost all lakes have increased and public health agencies are either not testing, or are keeping it quiet. If Lake Burley Griffin in Australia is a harbinger of things to come, lakes are now starting to grow their own pathogenic bacteria, and we are in for some real trouble. It is far past time that action should be taken. CLEAN-FLO plans to mail this report to all public health agencies, to present it at all future speeches, and to publish it on the Internet. Doing this alone would only frustrate everyone involved. Therefore, this paper will always be followed by the solution to the bacteria problem, along with the solution to the ever-increasing organic sediment in lakes, and the odor produced by the sediment. Please see the solution to the problems in the following paper. References Black, R.E., et al., Epidemiology of common source outbreaks of shigellosis in the United States. Amer. Jour. Epidemiology, 108, p.47 (1978), Black, R.E., et al., Outbreaks of water borne disease in the United States, 1975. Journal Infectious Disease, 137. p.370 (1978). Tyndall. R.L. et al., Isolation of Pathogenic Naegleria from artificially heated waters. Proc. Microbiology of Power Planr Thermal Effluents, Sept. 18, 1977, Iowa City, 117 (1978).

C-FLO Phosphorous, nitrogen and cellulose – feeders consume bottom organic sediment, while insects feed on the micro-organisms and fish feed on the insects. Muck disappears while fish thrive on natural food.

CLEAN & CLEARTM CONCENTRATED ENZYMES is a special blend of non-toxic enzymes from nature that acts as a catalyst to biodegrade non-living organic matter and reduces available nutrients in the water, thus improving water quality.