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Blog Posts: Water

October 23rd, 2014

When Will EPA Meet with Residents Harmed by Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

For over a year now, residents from communities affected by drilling and fracking for natural gas have tried to meet with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Specifically, residents from three affected communities – Dimock, Pennsylvania; Pavillion, Wyoming; and Parker County, Texas—have tried to meet with McCarthy to discuss the EPA’s failure to complete the critical investigations into the connection between their contaminated drinking water and the gas development in their communities.

On October 10, residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania and advocacy organizations held a press conference in front of EPA. During this event, Tom Reynolds, the Associate Administrator of the Office of Public Affairs at EPA, came down to speak with the residents and he promised to respond with available dates for a meeting with Gina McCarthy by Friday, October 17. But we still have not heard back from him.

In July 2013, an EPA region 3 whistleblower leaked a Powerpoint presentation to the Los Angeles Times showing that local EPA officials were concerned about contamination in the drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The presentation showed that the contamination was likely caused by gas drilling and fracking, contradicting findings of EPA water testing deeming the water in Dimock safe to drink. The EPA had also returned the Pavilion water contamination investigation to the state of Wyoming and dropped its litigation in Parker County, Texas –two other cases where evidence showed that the water contamination was likely caused by drilling and fracking, revealing a disturbing trend.

As a new administrator of the EPA, the residents and advocates wanted to meet with Gina McCarthy, update her on what had happened in these three communities and make sure she understood that residents were still living with contaminated water. Last September, affected residents delivered 250,000 petitions calling on the EPA to reopen the investigations and met with EPA officials in the public affairs office, but Administrator McCarthy did not attend the meeting. Since that time, she has refused to meet with the residents despite formal requests, thousands of emails and phone calls from people across the country, and even in-person requests of the administrator at public events.

At Food & Water Watch, we recently reviewed Administrator McCarthy’s public schedule and it shows that in the past year she has met with the CEO of BP twice; the head of the two major gas industry trade associations, the American National Gas Association (ANGA) and the American Gas Association (AGA); the head of the American Chemistry Council, which uses the natural gas liquids; and the CEOs of two major electricity utilities that depend on fossil fuels—Exelon and NRG.

1410_FBHL-OilGasMeetings-C1

 

It is disturbing that Gina McCarthy made the time to meet with the oil and gas industry, but not with the residents who are living with contaminated water. The EPA’s mission is to protect human health and the environment, not to protect the interests of oil and gas industry. Call on Administrator McCarthy to uphold the EPA’s mission and ask her to meet with the residents affected by drilling and fracking.

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October 22nd, 2014

UN Officials Echo Pleas to Restore Water Service in Detroit

By Lynna Kaucheck

Detroit_UN_Visit-BlogThumb

United Nations (UN) representatives Catarina de Albuquerque (left) and Leilani Farha (right) answer questions from local residents during a UN Fact-Finding Detroit Town Hall Meeting.

This past weekend, representatives from the United Nations visited Detroit to witness first-hand the repercussions of the city’s on-going water crisis. Needless to say, they were shocked, as I have been too, despite my many years fighting for water justice in the Motor City.

Ten years ago, when I first started working to preserve the right of Detroiters to safe, clean, affordable water, I never imagined the trajectory that work would take. Quite frankly, some of the politicking that has occurred in those areas over the past decade I couldn’t have anticipated in my wildest dreams.

After sitting under the thumb of a federal judge for 35 years, in March of 2013, the city of Detroit regained oversight of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD). That same month, Governor Rick Snyder sent emergency manager (EM) Kevyn Orr to Detroit to run the city, foregoing in the process, democracy and citizen participation. A few months later, the city declared bankruptcy and the threat of privatizing the DWSD became very real. This past March, after talks with suburban entities over a regional water authority broke down, Orr announced a plan to privatize the DWSD, issuing a request for information from interested parties. Within hours, the DWSD announced plans to pursue an aggressive shut-off plan in the city with a goal of denying water to 1,500 – 3,000 residences a week.

Of course, misinformation about the shutoffs abounded. This wasn’t simply a case of people opting not to pay their water bills. Some 40 percent of the city lives in poverty, victims of decades of misplaced civic priorities and policies that put profits ahead of people. Read the full article…

October 10th, 2014

Susan G. Komen, Fracking and “Pink Sh*t”

By Wenonah Hauter

BlogThumb_PinkDrill

What the frack? A pink fracking drill bit.

This week Susan G. Komen announced a partnership with Baker Hughes, a massive oilfield service company that operates in 90 countries. Throughout the month of October, Baker Hughes will “do their bit” in the fight against breast cancer by selling pink fracking drill bits.

While I fully support efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer, as a long-time consumer and environmental activist, I simply can’t abide such blatant pinkwashing, particularly when it willfully ignores the very obvious connection between fracking and breast cancer.

Our newest report, “The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking,” reveals that the practice of fracking utilizes over 100 dangerous chemicals known to cause life-threatening illnesses. Exposure to at least one of these chemicals, benzene, has been confirmed to increase people’s risk of developing cancer. And fracking waste can’t just be thrown into a dump or landfill with the rest of the trash. It’s highly toxic, often radioactive, and can easily seep into the atmosphere and water. In a handful of incidents, oil and gas companies have injected fracking fluids or wastes very close to, if not directly into, underground sources of drinking water.

If fracking is so dangerous, and if the corporations that do it are knowingly releasing dangerous chemicals into the environment, why on earth would the world’s largest breast cancer nonprofit think it’s a good idea to go into a partnership with them? This completely goes against the organization’s mission to “end breast cancer forever.”

To be honest, Susan G. Komen’s relationship with Baker Hughes is the cherry on top of a chemical-laden, toxic sundae. From pink water bottles containing BPAs to pink buckets of KFC containing carcinogenic ingredients, Susan G. Komen has made it clear they are prioritizing their pink bottom line over people they’re supposed to be helping.

Ultimately, the national nonprofit Breast Cancer Action summed this debacle up best in a recent press release:

“Breast Cancer Action today thanked Susan G. Komen and Baker Hughes for partnering on the most ludicrous piece of pink sh*t they’ve seen all year – 1,000 shiny pink drill bits. BCAction hailed this partnership as the most egregious example of “pinkwashing” they’ve ever seen and heartily lauded Komen and Baker Hughes for doing their bit to increase women’s risk of breast cancer with their toxic fracking chemicals.”

We concur.

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September 29th, 2014

What Will it Take for the EPA to Act on Fracking?

By Emily Wurth

CraigStevensDimockWater-FBSQIt is well known that drilling and fracking contaminate water and it’s happening all across the United States. Yet President Obama and his administration, including the Environmental Protection Agency, are not only letting this happen unchecked, they’re actively promoting and expanding fracking. That’s why we’ve long been blowing the whistle and demanding answers.

Last Thursday, a Resources for the Future Policy Leadership Forum featured a conversation with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Craig Stevens, whose water is contaminated from a gas pipeline, and I attended the forum hoping that we could ask Administrator McCarthy a single question: why won’t she meet with the families affected by water contamination from drilling and fracking for oil and gas?

Read the full article…

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September 21st, 2014

Don’t Frack Montana’s National Treasure

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

Eleanor Guerin with hiking buddies in 1987 taking a break with Grinnell Glacier in the background.

By Eleanor Guerin

I first worked in Glacier National Park during the summer of 1985, while still in college and studying biology. I knew I wanted to work in the wild. Coming from the flat land of Louisiana, I had only traveled east of the Mississippi and the only mountains I knew were the Ouchitas and the Appalachians. So Montana was at first overwhelming. I had never seen mountains loom so large; they felt oppressive. But I soon grew to love the park and the West in general – so much so that after one more stint working in environmental education in New Hampshire, I never went East again. I returned to Glacier as a ranger and naturalist the next year.

Visitors from all over the world come to Glacier. As a National Park Service park ranger/naturalist, I was fortunate to meet and talk with countless people from across Europe and Asia, the Middle East, Australia — really every continent. Many Europeans visit Glacier to see what is known as the “American Alps.” Folks come either for a quick drive on the not-to-be-missed road through the park or to spend days hiking the backcountry. And Glacier truly is a backcountry park. Roads take one only so far; while there is much to behold along the hairpin turns and thousand-foot drops of the main road, it’s the trails that lead to unimagined wildness. In the backcountry of this park, I sensed both my smallness in, and oneness with, the land. I yielded to the wind, sun and snow, to lightning and thunderstorms. I felt redeemed by the waters and life and purity of it all.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them "23 feet, 2 inches away from a 'griz' near Old Man Lake," according to a note on the back of the photo.

Eleanor Guerin (second from right) poses with Glacier National Park hikers in 1987. The group had just finished a loop that brought them “23 feet, 2 inches away from a ‘griz’ near Old Man Lake,” according to a note on the back of the photo.

Two intertwined features of Glacier will always stay with me: wildlife and water. And they both are threatened by what’s happening near the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the state of Montana: fracking. I have tracked fracking issues around the country from Pennsylvania to my home state of Louisiana, to the west in Wyoming, Montana and in California where I’ve made my home for 27 years. For some living in poverty, as on the Blackfeet Reservation bordering the eastern edge of Glacier, allowing drilling and fracking may provide temporary economic relief. But it has the terrible potential to be a double-edged sword. Some argue there’s no harm. Others fight with all their heart to protect the land. With secret chemical concoctions injected deep into the earth, I gladly err on the side of protection.

Montana may not be a highly populated state, but it contains an unrivaled natural treasure worthy of government oversight and protection. BLM lands are federal lands, intended to benefit ALL the people. The potential for fracking to contaminate both ground and surface water that sustains the people of Montana through agriculture and drinking supplies, as well its wildlife, cannot be ignored. Once damaged, there’s no turning back.

I return to Montana and Glacier every couple of years. The park is an old friend; the land has held my heart ever since my first foray there. But I have watched the glaciers, for which the park is named, recede during a few short decades. I know species like the pika become more threatened by warming temperatures. And now, the very water that sustains both humans and animals could become the next casualty of economic development. We must be vigilant.

eleanorguerin.headshotEleanor Guerin is a guest blogger to Food & Water Watch. Since leaving Glacier in 1987, Eleanor has made her home in Sonoma County, California, where she makes her living as a massage therapist, health advocate and Certified Senior Advisor. She gathers data for the California Phenology Project at Pepperwood Preserve and volunteers in the Sonoma County Regional Parks system.”

September 16th, 2014

To Save the Climate, We Need a Ban on Fracking

By Wenonah Hauter

Fracking is an issue that touches on every aspect of our lives — the water we drink, the air we breathe, the health of our communities — and it is also impacting the global climate on which we all depend.

With the upcoming People’s Climate March and United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, it is more important than ever that the climate effects of fracking are addressed. This is why today, Food & Water Watch released The Urgent Case for a Ban on Fracking. With mounting evidence about the dangerous impacts of fracking and the immediacy of the impending climate crisis, this report lays out the urgent case for a ban.

Fracking affects not only the millions living within a mile of fracking sites who experience health problems, polluted water, earthquakes, explosions and declined property values, but it also affects billions globally who are affected by climate change.

As the fracking boom began in 2009, we became alarmed about the threats fracking posed to our water resources – from tap water that could be lit on fire thanks to methane leaks from fracking wells into water sources, to spills of chemicals and fracking waste that pollute waterways. While many environmental groups were hopeful about natural gas’s ability to offset carbon emissions and act as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable energy future, we were skeptical about the trade-offs for the rest of the environment.

Over the next few years, scientific evidence mounted, showing not only that fracking won’t help moderate climate change, but that it has the potential to unleash massive amounts of methane that will worsen the climate disaster. After looking at the growing evidence of the inherent problems with fracking, and realizing how inadequately the states were regulating the oil and gas industry and enforcing those regulations, Food & Water Watch became the first national organization to call for a complete ban on fracking in 2011.

Since 2011, more than 150 additional studies have been conducted on a range of issues (from water pollution to climate change, air pollution to earthquakes) reinforcing the case that fracking is simply too unsafe to pursue. Neither federal nor state officials can effectively prevent the multitude of damages through regulation.

Fracking Methane Climate EffectsMounting evidence shows that fracking is inherently unsafe, contaminating water, polluting air, and threatening public health. Fracking damages local infrastructure, decreases property values and causes a range of social problems. And most critically for the survival of people and ecosystems, fracking exacerbates and accelerates climate change. We are facing a climate crisis that is already having devastating impacts and that is projected to escalate to catastrophic levels if we do not act now.

President Barack Obama came into office touting fracked gas as a “bridge fuel,” yet mounting evidence suggests that rather than serving as a bridge to a renewable energy future, it’s a bridge to a climate crisis.

Despite what the oil and gas industry claim, there have now been over 150 studies on fracking and its impacts that raise concerns about the risks and dangers of fracking and highlight how little we know about its long-term effects on health and our limited freshwater supplies. It’s time for President Obama and other decision makers to look at the facts. It’s a matter of our survival.

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September 9th, 2014

Detroit’s New Regional Water Authority: A Prelude to Privatization

By Mitch Jones

Water_Manhole_CoverEarlier today, Detroit and three of its suburbs announced the creation of a new, independent regional water authority. The deal creating the authority is part of the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings in Detroit. And while it’s being sold as a panacea to the woes of Detroit’s water system, it’s anything but. In fact, it’s another false solution that will likely leave Detroiters worse off than they are already — with no way to hold decision makers accountable.

The city and the suburbs released the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that forms the basis of the agreement. A reading of the agreement reveals that it will likely lead to the privatization of the water system.

The creation of the regional authority, the Great Lakes Water Authority, corporatizes the system by putting appointed, unelected officials fully in charge of the big decisions that determine the cost and quality of service. The agreement treats water provision as a business instead of a public service. Corporatization itself is the first step to privatization. The new authority can privatize the management and operation of the water and sewer system without real city input or public approval.

Currently, the Detroit city council must approve any privatization deal because it has oversight of water contracts worth more than $2 million. With this new agreement, the city council will lose that power.

In fact, an independent authority will not give ballot-box accountability to county residents, either; it will just cost city residents their ability to hold the system’s decision makers accountable.

The MOU says that the city will hire Veolia Water North America to review the water and sewer systems and to make recommendations “in evaluating operating models.” Veolia is the largest private operator of municipal water systems in the United States. We can expect that Veolia will likely recommend that the authority privatize the operation and management of the systems. And, we can expect the new authority to pursue those recommendations.

According to the MOU, the authority will be established if Detroit and one of the three suburbs formally approve it. If the other two counties refuse to officially join, the governor would appoint representatives for those counties to the new authority’s six-member board of directors. Because of this and because the MOU allows the governor to appoint one board member anyway, the governor could potentially appoint half the members of the new authority’s board.

Should Detroit approve the deal now, while under the rule of Emergency Manager Orr, but decide to withdraw once the city is returned to democratic governance, the MOU states that the governor would then be able to appoint the city’s representation to the authority’s board and the city would lose the “sweetener” funding for local infrastructure it is being given to buy into the deal.

We know what happens when cities privatize water systems: rates tend to go up, service tends to go down and jobs tend to be cut. That’s why the powers that be try to distance themselves from these decisions and insulate themselves from the potential fall out by establishing these undemocratic boards to do the dirty work. There’s a word for this: cowardice.

But the city council still has the opportunity to reject this deal — and it should. The elected representatives of the people of Detroit should stand up against this sham agreement. It’s possible Emergency Manager Orr will overrule them, but it is the one opportunity they have to put on record that the people of Detroit deserve better. It may even give pause to the unelected forces behind the deal.

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August 28th, 2014

How the Fracking Industry Undermines Labor

By Sydney Baldwin, Ryanne Waters and Katherine Cirullo

Is there a salary worth risking your health or even your life? Big Oil and Gas might think so, but the ex-industry workers with whom we spoke aren’t so convinced.

Today, Food & Water Watch released Toxic Workplace: Fracking Hazards on the Job, a research brief that exposes the dangers of working in the fracking industry. Subject to long hours on the job, sloppy safety regulations and reporting, lack of injury compensation and close contact with hazardous chemicals, former industry laborers agree that the fracking workplace is a toxic one. As we reflect on the social and economic successes of the labor movement over this holiday weekend, it becomes more evident that the fracking industry may have missed the memo.

The practice of hydraulic fracturing involves drilling down to a targeted rock formation and injecting large volumes of water, sand and toxic chemicals at extreme pressure to create fractures in the rock and release tightly held oil and gas. The chemicals used in the fracking process can cause cancer and damage the nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems and upset the endocrine system.

At the site, workers can be exposed to volatile organic compounds, including benzene and toluene, as well as fugitive methane, which are often released during fracking and can mix with nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel-fueled vehicles and stationary equipment to form ground-level ozone. Workers can also be exposed to silica sand, which is often used in the fracking process, and is a known human carcinogen. Long term exposure to silica, a component that makes up as much as 99 percent of frac sand, increases the likelihood of developing silicosis, which damages lung tissue and inhibits lungs function. Breathing it can make a person more susceptible to tuberculosis and is also associated with autoimmune disorders and kidney disease.

Randy Moyer, who used to work for the fracking industry as a subcontractor and dealt with shale gas wastewater, told us how he experienced first-hand the horrible effects of dealing with fracking chemicals and radioactive wastewater. He claims that the consequences of spending countless hours on the site included painful rashes, itching, sores and swelling of organs. “When I first got the rash, it was so bad; it’s like being on fire, and nobody can put you out,” Randy said.

To make matters worse, those on the frontlines risking their health and safety each day for the fracking industry are rarely compensated for any health problems they experience. Randy explained that he is going on 35 months without compensation or medical coverage for over twenty emergency room visits and a myriad of doctors’ appointments. “They basically put me out on my own,” he said.

In addition to exposure to harsh chemicals and radiation, workers also have to combat the every day dangers of working on the site, such as precarious equipment and long hours of strenuous work. As a result, the oil and gas industry’s fatality rate is 6.5 times the national average. From 2003-2012, 26 in 100,000 people died while working in the oil and gas industry; the national average for all U.S. jobs is four fatalities in 100,000.

fracking worker safety chart

“As they exploit their own workers, the oil and gas industry is always quick to tout the so-called ‘economic benefits’ of fracking,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But what good are jobs that injure workers and rob them of their health? We cannot stand by and allow the industry to profit from the exploitation of its labor force. The experiences of these workers illustrates that fracking is a toxic process through and through.”

With such high risks associated with working in the industry, those contracted to work in this dangerous field should be given extensive safety training and be fully educated in the types of conditions and chemicals they work with. However, Randy explained that workers were prohibited from raising these concerns about unknown chemicals and exposure on the job. “You aren’t allowed to even talk about it; if you talk about it, you’re gone.” He went on to explain the mentality of the industry, “If you don’t know, your company doesn’t know, your workers will never know, because you’re not allowed to discuss any of this on pads or they will fire you.”

To make matters worse, many oil and gas companies offer incentives to encourage laborers not to report safety accidents or file workers’ compensation claims in order to make themselves look good, but this distorts safety statistics.

Frequent accidents are swept under the rug by well site supervisors and company executives to protect profits. Thirty-year veteran of the fracking industry and former master driller, Lee McCaslin explained that previously injured or killed workers had written the job safety training in blood. “I walked around with a broken toe, a broken rib, you now, to get to the safety pad at the end of the hall to get that extra $57 we got for our safety award. I don’t know if it was worth the suffering,” Lee said. “Even our bosses knew that we were injured, but as long as we had no reporting of an accident, the whole crew was viable for those bonuses,” he said.

Allowing overly exhausted workers to operate and maintain heavy drilling machinery in such dangerous conditions without any consideration for safety is common practice in the fracking industry. Many accidents occurring in the fracking industry stem from the irregular and long work hours. Lee McCaslin recalled working fourteen-hour days. “The hours are just enough to put you into a state of being where you walk around like a zombie half of the time.”

This is clearly an industry that places no value in the safety, or even lives, of their workers. “You’re expendable to the industry. There is always someone else to come fill that seat,” Randy quipped.

When asked what he would say to someone trying to work in the fracking industry, Randy stated, “This will ruin your health. It takes a very small amount of this to do it. If you value your health, you won’t even get close to it.” As Lee reflects on his time as an industry laborer, he claims “I’m grateful for my life today.” No one should fear for his or her life at work, but unfortunately, this is the reality that oil and gas industry workers face on a daily basis.

Update, August 29: Preliminary field studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) find that workers in the oil and gas industry can be exposed to higher than recommended levels of benzene.

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August 22nd, 2014

Calling on Congress to Protect Public Lands from Becoming Private Profit

By Wenonah Hauter #saveourparks from fracking

When you imagine your family vacation, do drilling rigs or the roar of wastewater tankers rumbling down a forest service road immediately come to mind? Unfortunately, with the Obama administration’s proposed rules for drilling and fracking on federal lands, our treasured national lands may begin to resemble this grim image. Read the full article…

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August 18th, 2014

The Toledo Water Crisis Won’t Be the Last

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

Algae_Blooms_Blog_ThumbThe recent water crisis in Toledo, Ohio is not an isolated incident, and it won’t be the last. As the annual and increasingly severe algae blooms hit Lake Erie this year, levels of the toxin mycrocystin reached such high levels that the City of Toledo ordered a tap water ban because the toxin can cause diarrhea, vomiting or impaired liver function. Residents were ordered not to drink the water or use it for cooking, brushing their teeth or pets. Children and people with compromised immune systems were even warned not to bathe with the water.

Caused by large amounts of phosphorus runoff from excessive fertilizer application on farms, manure from livestock feeding operations and aging wastewater infrastructure, the algae blooms in Lake Erie are nothing new. In fact, water contamination from industrial agriculture and wastewater discharge has repeatedly been a detriment to public waterways and sources of drinking water, causing previous contamination crises.

In 1997, outbreaks of Pfiesteria, a toxic algae, contaminated the Chesapeake Bay, Pocomoke River, Rappahannock River and other waterways of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Excessive nutrient run-off from the high concentration of chicken farms in the region, contracted by companies like Tyson, caused algae blooms and the subsequent spread of Pfiesteria. The outbreak resulted in large fish kills, with thousands of fish dying and showing signs of contamination like sores, ulcerous holes and whole chunks of fins missing. Public health effects also materialized, with several people experiencing neurological problems like short-term memory loss.

In the early 2000s, the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma faced water contamination from excess phosphorus runoff caused by land application of poultry litter and wastewater discharges. The runoff polluted Lake Eucha and Lake Spavinaw, which supplied drinking water to about half of the city’s 500,000 residents at the time of the incident, causing algae blooms and “foul-smelling and bitter tasting water.” As a result, the city faced substantial treatment costs from the runoff contamination and eventually brought suit against poultry industry companies like Tyson Foods, among others, as well as the city of Decatur, Arkansas for wastewater discharges.

Similarly, Des Moines, Iowa experienced historically high nitrate levels beginning in May 2013, caused by runoff from excessive fertilizer use in agricultural production. The nitrate levels reached as high as 24 milligrams per liter (mg/l), far above the accepted safe level of 10 mg/l. Des Moines Water Works, the municipal water utility for the city and surrounding communities, had to operate its Nitrate Removal Facility at a cost of $7,000 per day to keep nitrates at levels safe for consumption. This ended up costing consumers over $525,000. Left untreated, high levels of nitrates also pose the risk of Blue Baby Syndrome to infants six months old and younger — nitrates can reduce the ability of infant’s blood to carry oxygen, leading to death.

In other cases municipal water supplies have been contaminated with E. coli and other harmful contaminants due to runoff from factory farms and wastewater discharge into our public waterways. In 2000, Canada experienced one of its worst water contamination crises ever when the water supply for Walkerton, Ontario was contaminated with E. coli from nearby farm runoff. Seven people died from the outbreak and more than 2,300 became ill with symptoms like bloody diarrhea, gastrointestinal infections and other symptoms common with E. coli infections.

In a less severe but still serious case, residents of Morrison, Wisconsin also faced drinking water contamination from factory farm and other agricultural runoff. According to the New York Times, in 2009 more than 100 wells used for drinking water had become contaminated with E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants commonly found in manure, due largely to runoff from nearby dairy farms or fields covered with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage. Residents suffered chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

These incidents might leave you wondering why we haven’t learned from the past and prevented future crises. The fact is, it’s well known that runaway fertilizer use, excessive nutrient runoff from factory farms and devil-may-care wastewater discharges from other polluters are responsible for the ongoing occurrence of these water crises. Instead, actors on all sides have knowingly ignored or tried to side-step directly addressing the issue with sub-par policies, largely because of undue influence from industry lobbies and special interests that stand behind those guilty of polluting our waterways.

Despite having policy tools like the Clean Water Act (CWA) that initially provided strong protections for our public waterways, it has since been weakened and little has changed. Industrial agriculture continues to be the highest source of pollution in many of our waterways and simultaneously these polluters remain some of the least regulated and continue to discharge pollution with impunity.

To make matters worse, the proposed solution to this has been to allow water quality trading as a way to comply with the CWA. In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a giant step away from the public trust approach of the CWA when they created a plan that gives polluters the option to buy the right to pollute our waterways. The EPA is allowing polluters like coal-fired power plants to purchase “credits” from other polluters, like industrial agriculture, in lieu of controlling their discharges.

Until public and environmental health is put before industrial agriculture and other polluters’ interests, we stand to face more of the same crises at the cost to consumers. How do we go about changing this? First, water quality trading cannot stand as an option. It is a false solution and to date there is not one documented case of its success. Second, runoff from industrial agriculture must be regulated. Full stop. In 1977, amendments to the CWA set a strong and simple standard that polluting is illegal, and that the national goal is zero discharge of pollution into our public waterways. Our rivers, lakes and estuaries do not exist as dumping grounds for the pollution that comes from irresponsible and unsustainable industrial practices. There is no substitute for water — not polluting it is our only option.

Take action today to protect Ohio’s water from factory farms!

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