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 Washington Research and Policy Center

Budget Cuts Would Increase Puget Sound Pollution

Proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water programs would halt progress on curbing the flow of polluted runoff into Puget Sound, according to a new report by Environment Washington Research and Policy Center (Environment Washington RPC). With a deadline for Congress to approve a federal budget fast approaching, Northern Fish Seafood Company President Ross Swanes, Pierce Conservation District Executive Director Ryan Mello, and Washington Environmental Council Puget Sound Program Director Mindy Roberts joined Environment Washington RPC in calling for full funding of EPA to protect Puget Sound and other Washington waterways.

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News Release | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

New “Back to School” Item for Parents: Toolkit to Get the Lead Out of Schools’ Drinking Water

With “back to school” in full swing this week, Environment Washington Research and Policy Center today offered a new toolkit to help parents, teachers, and administrators Get the Lead Out of schools’ drinking water. Citing a lack of accurate information on lead contamination in water and how schools should prevent it, Environment Washington encouraged parents and teachers to put the new toolkit on their “back to school” reading list. 

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Report | Environment Washington Research and Policy Center

'Back to School' Toolkit

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.  The problem stems from pipes, plumbing, faucets and fixtures that contain lead.  The common-sense solution is to “get the lead out” of schools’ water delivery systems.  This “Back to School” toolkit is designed to help parents, teachers and school officials get the facts on lead in drinking water and make the case for strong local action to ensure safe drinking water at school.

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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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