Water Pollution Impacts

water pollution impacts from factory farming

Water Pollution Impacts

  • 2,033,000,000,000 tons of water are used for meat production every year worldwide. (The World Counts)
  • Cattle production is a major cause of water pollution. In the U.S. alone, cattle produce nearly 1 billion tons of organic waste every year, accounting for a significant percentage of pollutants in U.S. rivers, lakes, streams, oceans and aquifers. (mcspotlight.org)
  • Worldwide, cattle and other livestock animals generate an estimated 13 billion tons of waste every year that ends up contaminating our waterways. This is the weight of the Eiffel tower every 24 seconds. The problem of what to do with this waste is increasing. (The World Counts)
  • Worldwide, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in 2009 were used on livestock and poultry, compared to only 20 percent used for human illnesses. Antibiotics that are present in animal waste leach into the environment and contaminate water and food crops, posing a serious threat to public health. (Worldwatch Institute)
  • The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, euthropication and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones and drugs given the animals, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed. (Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO)
  • California officials identify agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Large-scale commercial livestock and poultry operations produce an estimated 500 million tons of manure each year, more than three times the sewage produced by the entire U.S. human population. Unlike the household waste produced in an overwhelming majority of U.S. communities, which have municipal sewer systems, the manure and waste from livestock operations is completely untreated. Factory farm waste is stored in manure pits or lagoons, and ultimately it is applied to farm fields as fertilizer. As the Wisconsin State Journal noted, “Unlike cities, which treat their waste, most of the large farms dispose of manure the same way farmers disposed of it in the Middle Ages – by spreading it on fields as fertilizer, creating nitrogen pollution on land, our streams and rivers, lakes and waterways, and oceans.” (Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, 2008)
  • Small, diversified farms that raise animals as well as other crops have always used manure as fertilizer without polluting water. The difference with factory farms is scale. They produce so much waste in one place that it must be applied to land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb and incorporate it. The vast quantities of manure can – and do – make their way into the local environment where they pollute the air and water. Manure contains nitrogen, phosphorus and often bacteria that can endanger the environment and human health. Manure lagoons leak, and farmers over-apply manure to their fields, which allows manure and other wastes to seep into local streams and groundwater. Residential drinking wells can be contaminated with dangerous bacteria that can sicken neighbors and the runoff can damage the ecological balance of streams and rivers. In some cases, manure spills that reach waterways can kill aquatic life. (FactoryFarmMap.org)
  • Nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water, contributing to a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where there’s not enough oxygen to support fish and aquatic life. The dead zone fluctuates in size each year, extending a record 8,500 square miles during the summer of 2002 and stretching over 7,700 square miles during the summer of 2010. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, are prone to leaks and spills. In 1995, an eight-acre hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst, spilling 25 million gallons of manure into the New River. The spill killed about 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)
  • Ammonia, a toxic form of nitrogen released in gas form during waste disposal, can be carried more than 300 miles through the air before being dumped back onto the ground or into the water, where it causes algal blooms and large fish kills. (National Resources Defense Council, NRDC)

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