Tell the EPA: Yes! Protect my Drinking Water from Factory Farm Waste
Animal waste from factory farms is poisoning our drinking water and killing our lakes, rivers, streams – even the Gulf of Mexico. Animals raised on factory farms generate more than 100 times more waste than humans. Yet this raw waste, unlike human waste, is not treated in sewage systems – even though, according to a study conducted by Minnesota agricultural extension engineer, John Chastain, "the pollution strength of raw manure is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage." The waste from factory farm animals is contaminated with antibiotics, growth hormones and disease-carrying pathogens and bacteria. It also causes dangerously high levels of nitrates in drinking water. Most of it is stored in open lagoons, where it’s prone to spills and leaks, or spread on fields as fertilizer.
Please sign the petition below by Feb. 27, asking the EPA to make it a priority in 2014-2016 to force factory farms to stop polluting our drinking water and destroying our lakes, rivers and streams. Tell the EPA you also want it to collect the data necessary to monitor water pollution from CAFOs and enforce regulations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempts to regulate factory farm waste under the Clean Water Act. But the regulations are full of loopholes, and enforcement is weak and inconsistent. In order to devote more resources to enforcement, the EPA made its “initiative to prevent surface and groundwater contamination by animal waste discharges from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS)” a priority for 2011-2013. Every three years the EPA asks the public to weigh in on whether or not to continue to make the initiative a priority for another three years.
Please add your voice to the letter below! Tell the EPA: Yes! Keep up the pressure on CAFOs for another three years!
Nitrate: a growing health hazard in drinking water
Agricultural waste is the number one form of well-water contaminants in the U.S., where at least 4.5 million people are exposed to dangerously high nitrate levels in their drinking water. High levels of nitrates are linked to numerous health issues, including miscarriages, gastric problems and cancer. Most at risk, according to the EPA, are infants who suffer developmental problems and even death, due to oxygen deprivation caused by nitrate pollution.
Where do the nitrates in our drinking water come from? Animal waste is high in nitrogen. As the waste decomposes, the nitrogen is converted to ammonium nitrate. Factory farms typically store untreated animal waste in lagoons or “holding ponds.” But there’s widespread evidence of waste leaking from storage lagoons or spilling out during storms, and finding its way into water supplies.
The link between factory farms and dangerous levels of nitrates is not hypothetical. As reported in ‘"Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities,” the EPA’s 2000 National Water Quality Inventory found that 29 states specifically identified animal feeding operations, not just CAFOs, as contributing to water quality impairment . A study of private water wells in Idaho detected levels of veterinary antibiotics, as well as elevated levels of nitrates. And a Centers for Disease Control study of well water in nine Midwestern states showed that 13 percent of the supply had nitrate levels above the EPA standard of ten milligrams per liter.
According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC):
- California officials identify agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater.
- In Oklahoma, nitrates from Seaboard Farms' hog operations contaminated drinking water wells, prompting the EPA to issue an emergency order in June 2001 requiring the company to provide safe drinking water to area residents.
- In 1996 the Centers for Disease Control established a link between spontaneous abortions and high nitrate levels in Indiana drinking water wells located close to feedlots.
Additionally, a 2012 study by EPA of sources of nitrate pollution in residential water wells in Washington State’s Yakima Valley flagged dairy CAFOs as a major source of the pollution. About 25,000 people in the Valley depend on residential wells for their drinking water.
Factory farm runoff: killing our waterways
A report out this month linking industrial agriculture to a devastating web of pollution notes that the increase of factory farming has produced too much nitrogen and phosphorous, which are causing coastal and freshwater dead zones, fish kills, nitrate-contaminated aquifers and impure drinking water. The authors of the global report, “Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution, warn that if we don’t cut meat consumption, the planet is doomed.
Here in the U.S., the Center for Disease Control says that the agriculture sector, including CAFOs, is the leading contributor of pollutants to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. In fact, waste generated by factory farms has already polluted more than 35,000 miles of river in 22 states and has contaminated groundwater in 17 states.
From the NRDC:
- Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995 an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.
- From 1995 to 1998, 1,000 spills or pollution incidents occurred at livestock feedlots in 10 states and 200 manure-related fish kills resulted in the death of 13 million fish.
- When Hurricane Floyd hit North Carolina in 1999, at least five manure lagoons burst and approximately 47 lagoons were completely flooded.
- Runoff of chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is believed to have contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida, killing millions of fish and causing skin irritation, short-term memory loss and other cognitive problems in local people.
- Nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water, contributing to a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico where there's not enough oxygen to support aquatic life. The dead zone fluctuates in size each year, extending a record 8,500 square miles during the summer of 2002 and stretching over 7,700 square miles during the summer of 2010.
We need stronger, not weaker, regulation of CAFO waste
The CAFO industry has fought long and hard to prevent the EPA from regulating animal waste. As recently as 2011, the industry won a major victory when the court ruled that under the Clean Water Act, the EPA cannot require a CAFO to apply for a Clean Water Act National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit before it discharges waste into waterways. The EPA can only require a permit after the pollution occurs. The CAFO can be held liable for the pollution that occurred without a permit, but by then, the damage has occurred.
With more than 15,000 CAFOs operating in the U.S., the EPA is hard put to monitor them all for compliance with the Clean Water Act. In fact, according to an article in the Ecology Law Quarterly, the EPA doesn’t know how many CAFOs are in the U.S, let alone how many are discharging pollutants without a NPDES permit. So it has to rely on the National Pork Producers to provide that information. The EPA put forth plan to collect the data itself, a plan it later abandoned.
Please add your voice to the letter below! Tell the EPA: Yes! Keep up the pressure on CAFOs for another three years! And tell the EPA you also want it to collect the data necessary to monitor water pollution from CAFOs and enforce regulations.