With images of oil-covered animals and updates on the ever-gushing BP oil spill in the news every day, many people are mindful of the catastrophic destruction caused by oil spills. Relatively few people, however, are aware of the damage caused by factory farm waste lagoons, which are a leading source of water pollution.
In 1995, a giant “lagoon” holding 8 acres of hog excrement burst, spilling 25 million gallons of putrefying hog urine and feces into the New River in North Carolina, killing between 10 and 14 million fish. The spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster, yet not nearly as many people seem to know about it.
Manure spills are a bigger problem than most people realize. The 2005 Marks Dairy Farm manure spill, which deposited about 3 million gallons of liquid cow manure in the Black River in upstate New York, killed approximately 200,000 to 250,000 fish.
Just last month, millions of gallons of manure from a diary farm in Washington spilled into the Snohomish River, killing untold numbers of fish and prompting health officials to urge the public to avoid contact with the river, as cow manure contains harmful E. coli bacteria.
Even “small-scale” waste runoff can contaminate our rivers, killing sea animals and threatening human health. A 2006 report from the Department of Environmental Quality revealed that two creeks near Michigan Hartford Dairy showed excessive concentrations of E. coli bacteria from cow manure.
Around the same time, the Texas-based Alan Ritchey Dairy was forced to pay $40,000 in civil penalties and take environmental measures to end a long-standing battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing bloody liquids from carcass pits, manure, and silage wastewater to drain into creeks and Oklahoma’s Red River.
Last summer, the Justice Department fined Tyson Fresh Meats, the world’s largest beef and pork supplier, $2 million for pumping animal waste into the Missouri River, reportedly causing high levels of toxicity to aquatic life.
In March, the Assateague Coastal Trust sued Perdue Farms and Hudson Farm—a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) which raises chickens for Perdue—for discharging water with high concentrations of harmful bacteria, including fecal coliform and E. coli, into the Chesapeake Bay.
These are just a few random examples. In a blog about the Assateague Coastal Trust’s lawsuit, I noted that, according to EPA records, chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has polluted at least 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. The EPA has even reported that factory farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
Fortunately, many people who are concerned about both animal welfare and the environment are working to call attention to this serious problem. One determined woman, Lynn Henning, a Michigan corn and soybean farmer, was recently presented with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and the accompanying $150,000 award money—much of which she plans to donate to environmental groups and spend on water monitoring kits—for her efforts to expose animal factories for the pollution-spewing cesspools they are
While animal factories should be held accountable for their mess, and made to take more stringent precautions to prevent both major manure spills and the everyday pollution from manure that seeps into our waterways, we can all share in the responsibility for keeping our waterways clean by choosing vegan foods. If you’re not willing to go vegan just yet, simply reducing the amount of animal-derived items you eat will help too.
In fact, eating less—and preferably no—meat, eggs, and dairy products can help reduce both manure and oil spills. (More than one-third of the fossil fuels produced in America are used to raise animals for food. It takes approximately 10 times more fossil fuels to produce meat than to produce vegan foods.)
So, if you don’t want to see manure or oil in our waterways, consider what you to do to reduce the risk of devastating spills. Visit GoVeg.com for more information and ideas.