Factory Farms, Fouled Waters

Clean water is vital to our health, our environment, and our quality of life.

Environment Washington Research and Policy Center envisions a future where all of our waterways, from the Puget Sound to Lake Chelan, are clean and our drinking water is safe. One of the most critical steps to achieving this vision is to dramatically reduce pollution from agribusiness operations, specifically at concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Washington State.

The estimated 200,000 adult dairy cows in Washington produce over 20 million pounds of manure each day, collectively. It is estimated that 2,500 dairy cows produce a waste load equivalent to a city of 411,000 people. What’s worse, unlike human waste, dairy waste is not treated; instead dairy waste at CAFOs is either stored in manure lagoons or applied to fields.

Credit: Waterkeeper Alliance, CC BY-SA 2.0

Unfortunately, given the quantity, manure is often over-applied to fields, and lagoons often contain millions of gallons of liquid waste where decomposing manure results in high concentrations of nitrites and nitrates. The lagoons and over-application not only pollute groundwater and surface water, but also pose a threat to human health, especially to infants.

Groundwater is the drinking water supply for approximately 60 percent of people who reside in Washington state. Several areas of the state with high concentrations of CAFOs have been found to have high levels of nitrates in drinking water. Nitrates are toxins. High doses particularly threaten pregnant mothers, babies, and seniors, causing methemoglobinemia, or "blue baby syndrome," which can be fatal.

Our goal is to raise the profile of the problem of agricultural pollution in our waterways. We know that Washingtonians care about the Puget Sound and clean water, but to change the way this pollution is managed, we need to educate the public and raise the profile and visibility of the problem.

Issue updates

Report | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

Get the Lead Out

Given the high toxicity of lead to children, the most health-protective policy is simply to “get the lead out” of our schools and pre-schools.  This involves pro-actively removing lead-bearing parts from schools’ drinking water systems – from service lines to faucets and fixtures – and installing certified filters at every tap used for drinking or cooking.  While all this prevention work cannot all happen at once, schools should immediately begin regular and proper testing of all water outlets used for drinking or cooking and promptly remove from service those outlets where lead is detecte

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News Release | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

New Report Gives WA State an “F” for Policies to Prevent Lead Exposure in School Drinking Water

Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Environment Washington today launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign.  An analysis by Environment Washington gave Washington State a grade of ‘F,’ failing to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.  Environment Washington and WashPIRG are calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in Washington’s schools and daycares.

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Report | Environment America Research & Policy Center

Local Officials Join Effort to Defend Clean Water Rule from Lawsuit

With clean water protections under attack in the courts, 79 local officials from across the country joined Environment America Research & Policy Center in amicus briefs supporting the Clean Water Rule. 

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Report | Environment America Research & Policy Center

Businesses Join Effort to Defend Clean Water Rule from Lawsuit

With clean water protections under attack in the courts, 234 business leaders from 33 states joined Environment America Research & Policy Center in amicus briefs supporting the Clean Water Rule.

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Report | Environment Washington

Broad Coalition Calls on Gov. Inslee to Strength Pollution Controls for Industrial Farms

A broad coalition of environmental, health care, and racial justice organizations write Governor Inslee to express deep concerns with the Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) current draft of the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) discharge permit.

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