FACTORY FARMING SERIES PART IV: The Chesapeake's Manure Problem
By Karen Steuer
What do 2,700 plant species, 525 species of fin and shell-fish and more than 17 million people have in common? They are all residents of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The bay provides economic benefits of more than $33 billion a year from recreational and commercial activities, including the harvest of the well-known blue crab. Its vast, 64,000-square-mile watershed stretches from upstate New York to southern Virginia and east to the Delmarva Peninsula.
Unfortunately, the waters of the world’s third-largest estuary have become contaminated and as a result, harvests of striped bass, oysters and blue crabs have significantly declined and habitats important to these species have suffered. Among the pollution culprits are the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which, in excess, can trigger massive algal blooms that lead to declines in the bay’s life-giving dissolved oxygen.
The sources of those nutrient pollutants are various, but significant among them is animal agriculture, particularly from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
About 42 percent of the Chesapeake region’s 87,000 farms are primarily livestock operations, while 7 percent produce a mixture of crops and animals. Nutrient yields are particularly high from the southern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, southeastern Pennsylvania and the lower Delmarva Peninsula, where animal agriculture is heavily concentrated. Generating 44 million tons of manure each year, the watershed’s livestock contribute about half of the total nutrient load from all agricultural sources.
Most of the manure is used to fertilize cropland. Applied at the right time and rate, it can be highly beneficial for growing plants. But as land is developed into nonagricultural uses, less is available for efficient and responsible disposal. In fact, most of the waste generated in the bay region is used to fertilize crops on less than 10 percent of the watershed’s agricultural lands. This increases the likelihood of over-application and thus the likelihood of environmental and human health threats.
Nutrients can easily be carried by rainwater or snowmelt runoff, entering local streams and waterways that ultimately empty into the Chesapeake Bay. The pollutants, particularly nitrogen compounds, are also conveyed to the bay via the groundwater that many of us use for drinking. In addition, ammonia gas from manure piles and fertilized fields rises into the air and eventually falls onto the surface of the bay’s waters and tributaries.
These, however, aren’t the only animal agriculture-generated pollutants that affect the bay. Manure from feeding operations often contains a foul mixture of pathogens, antibiotics, cleaning fluids, heavy metals and pesticides. These form an additional threat to human health and wildlife.
There’s no question that responsible manure management is critical to maintaining a healthy bay. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), much of the manure remains unregulated. Some comes from farm operations that fall below U.S. EPA thresholds for what legally constitutes a CAFO, or escapes regulation when it leaves the CAFO to be used as fertilizer on crops.
As CAFO operations have become more industrialized, regulations have not kept pace. You can help. The Chesapeake is not the only watershed affected by CAFO pollution—many states have CAFOs.
In my next blog entry, I’ll discuss the impacts that CAFOs have had on communities in other parts of the U.S.
Below see the Pew Environment Group's infographic explaining the problems resulting from animal waste from CAFOs:
Visit EcoWatch’s FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on this topic.
Karen Steuer joined Pew in 2008 as director of government relations for the Pew Environment Group. Steuer has extensive experience in environmental work in Washington, D.C., dating to 1991, when she served as deputy staff director for the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. Since then, she has served as a special assistant to Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts; as director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Program on Commercial Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife; as an independent consultant on environmental and wildlife issues with Green Answers; and as vice president, government affairs, for the National Environmental Trust. Steuer holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Goddard College.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
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What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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