My water pitcher supposedly filters out the chlorine, copper, mercury, and pharmaceuticals found in tap water—I sure hope it can catch chicken poop, too, because untreated factory-farm waste is winding up in our water supply.
Karen Steuer, the director of the Reforming Industrial Animal Agriculture campaign at the Pew Environment Group, says that animal manure can be found “in the waters that we depend on for commerce, recreation, and perhaps most importantly drinking.”
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “Yuck!”
Steuer points out that more waste is often produced on a single factory farm than in a city the size of Philadelphia. The Pew report, “Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America,” states that the 523 million chickens raised and killed each year in Maryland and Delaware alone generate enough waste to fill the dome of the U.S. Capitol about 50 times, or almost once a week.
Manure from all the chicken farms in the “Broiler Belt,” the area extending from eastern Texas through the southeastern United States to Maryland and Delaware, is virtually choking the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers typically spread chicken feces on open fields or cropland, and the manure—which contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus—often seeps into the water.
It’s also not uncommon for the giant waste-storage lagoons on factory farms to burst, spilling millions of gallons of putrefying animal waste into our rivers. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, factory farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. Chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has polluted at least 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.
This isn’t just disgusting. It’s unhealthy, especially considering that animal waste emits ammonia, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. Manure spills kill millions of fish and other marine animals, too, but they never seem to receive as much media attention as oil spills, which also kill countless sea animals and ruin our rivers.
The meat, egg, and dairy industries should be held accountable for mucking up our waterways—in addition to wasting our resources, polluting our air, and causing climate change—but everyone must share in the responsibility for cleaning up our planet. We can all help accomplish this goal simply by eating vegan meals. The fewer animals we raise for food, the less manure there will be to contaminate our water.