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 Reseach and Policy Center

Wasting our Waterways

The “Wasting Our Waterways” report shows that industrial facilities dumped millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s waterways. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering a new rule to restore Clean Water Act protections to thousands of waterways across the nation.

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Report | Environment Washington Research & Policy Center

Dirty Energy's Assault on Our Health: Mercury Pollution

Our dependence on oil and coal-fired power plants has broad detrimental impacts on our health and our environment. Power plants represent America’s single biggest source of air pollution, affecting our waterways, destroying ecosystems, and polluting the air we breathe. Pollution from coal-fired power plants in particular contributes to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic respiratory diseases. This report looks at the health and environmental impacts of mercury pollution from power plants.  

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Report | Environment Washington Research & Policy Center

Growing Influence

The agribusiness lobby is well known as one of the most powerful in Washington, D.C., and many states. Less well known is the fact that big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to cleaner water for the American people. 

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Report | Environment Washington Research & Policy Center

Keep Plastic Out of Puget Sound

Puget Sound is threatened by plastic pollution. Plastic trash persists for hundreds of years and can kill or harm whales, turtles, seabirds and other marine animals. Single use plastic bags are a significant part of the problem. To reduce ocean pollution and protect the environment, dozens of national and local governments across the planet have taken official action to reduce or eliminate single use plastic bags. State and local governments in Washington should follow their lead and ban the use of plastic grocery bags.

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News Release | Environment Washington

Agribusiness Lobby Fights Against Clean Water

Big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to clean water in the United States, according to a new report by Environment Washington Research & Policy Center. The report, “Growing Influence: The Political Power of Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways,” was released today.

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