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

News Release | Environment America Research & Policy Center

102 groups urge EPA to rein in meat and poultry processing plant pollution

Environment America Research & Policy Center is submitting comments on behalf of 102 organizations today, urging the Environmental Protection Agency to dramatically reduce the massive levels of pollution dumped by agribusiness facilities into America’s waterways. The comments are in response to the agency’s decision not to update permit standards for meat and poultry plants -- despite the Clean Water Act’s requirement to do so.

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News Release | Environment America

Statement: Dual EPA rollbacks weaken clean water protections against toxic coal waste

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released two proposals today to roll back clean water protections against waste from coal-fired power plants. The first proposal would overhaul wastewater rules, drastically weakening safeguards that prevent utilities from discharging toxic pollutants like arsenic, lead and mercury into America’s waterways. The second proposal would significantly extend closure dates for coal ash disposal sites, allowing utilities to continue storing toxic coal debris in ponds that can leak or overflow, for decades.

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News Release | Environment America Research and Policy Center

New “Voices for Clean Water” website highlights wide array of Americans speaking out against pollution threats

In response to a growing set of pollution threats and to mark today’s 47th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Environment America Research and Policy Center and the Clean Water for All coalition have launched  a new website -- “Voices for Clean Water” -- that  features photos and testimonials from a wide array of individuals from across America. They included business owners, faith leaders, public health experts and people who love to swim, hike, kayak or just drink clean water.

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News Release | Environment America

EPA’s proposed lead rule fails to ensure safe drinking water

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited proposal to update to the federal Lead and Copper Rule. As proposed, EPA’s long-awaited update to the Lead and Copper Rule falls far short of the decisive action needed to “get the lead out” of our drinking water. And in a few critical provisions, the proposed rule could even take us backwards.  

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Report | Environment Washington

Get the Lead Out

Our children need safe drinking water – especially at school where they go to learn and play each day. Unfortunately, lead is contaminating drinking water at schools and pre-schools across the country. As our report shows, states are failing to make the grade when it comes to keeping lead out of drinking water at school. Instead of waiting for more testing, we need to proactively remove the lead pipes and plumbing at the root of this toxic hazard for our children.

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