Thursday, September 17, 2009

Manure and other agricultural run-off in your drinking water

As industrial farms house increasingly larger herds, the contamination of wells, watersheds, and rivers and streams is becoming a more urgent problem. As noted in this New York Times article, a single cow produces as much waste as eighteen people.

Tests of [Wisconsin resident Lisa Barnard's] water showed it contained E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants found in manure. Last year, her 5-year-old son developed ear infections that eventually required an operation. Her doctor told her they were most likely caused by bathing in polluted water, she said.

Yet runoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources. The Clean Water Act of 1972 largely regulates only chemicals or contaminants that move through pipes or ditches, which means it does not typically apply to waste that is sprayed on a field and seeps into groundwater.

As a result, many of the agricultural pollutants that contaminate drinking water sources are often subject only to state or county regulations. And those laws have failed to protect some residents living nearby.

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