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Manure lagoons at CAFOs spillover and are a direct threat to local water supplies

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Manure lagoons at CAFOs spillover and are a direct threat to local water supplies

Johnson-Weider 2020 – J.D., Stetson University College of Law, worked as an attorney in the UnitedStates Senate Office of the Legislative Counsel for thirteen years, with primary responsibility for drafting legislative proposals relating to agriculture and nutrition.
(Michelle Johnson-Weider “From Factory Farming to a Sustainable Food System: A Legislative Approach” The Georgetown Envtl. Law Review, Vol. 32:685)
The most obvious and immediate threat that CAFOs present is to clean water and public health, two significant concerns of the rural communities in which these factory farms are usually located. CAFOs present such a significant threat to drinking water quality and overall public health because the effects of CAFOs are so difficult to contain. Many of CAFOs’ harms are rooted in manure storage and disposal. Manure lagoons at North Carolina hog CAFOs (most of which are concentrated in the coastal plain) have repeatedly overflowed in situations of natural disaster, flooding untreated sewage across the countryside and contaminating crops to the extent that they are considered “adulterated” by the FDA and cannot be sold for human consumption.59 Animal waste concentrated in manure lagoons has a much higher nutrient load than raw human sewage and is, therefore, much more likely to result in dangerous algal blooms when it contaminates ground or surface water.60 This waste often contains heavy metal, antibiotic, pesticide, and hormone residue, much of which can persist in watersheds. Many rural areas depend on groundwater for drinking, and studies have shown that private wells in areas with CAFOs often contain bacteria, pathogens, veterinary antibiotics, and nitrates (a particular risk to infants, among whom high levels of nitrates may result in blue baby syndrome, neural tube defects, and even death). The massive quantities of manure produced in concentrated areas by CAFOs are difficult to mitigate and can lead to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria being transmitted to humans through air or water contamination of nearby fresh fruit and vegetable production.63 Additionally, CAFOs are the perfect breeding place for insects, including those that can spread harmful pathogens to humans.64 These risks can extend far beyond the rural areas where CAFOs are located, through both food-borne pathogens and infectious diseases that spread from animals to humans. Despite all of these well-documented negative effects, agricultural activities are largely exempt from regulation and oversight under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly known as the “Clean Water Act”).66 The threats to clean water and public health are, therefore, particularly compelling reasons for why federal legislative action is necessary.

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