The Haw River Assembly has joined other Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeepers in North Carolina to address water pollution concerns caused by CAFOs, or Contained Animal Feeding Operations.
What is a CAFO?
Contained Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. In these facilities, animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period.
Manure and wastewater from CAFOs have the potential to contribute pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, sediments, pathogens, hormones, and antibiotics to the environment.
- Risk Assessment Evaluation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
- Literature Review of Contaminants in Livestock and Poultry Manure and Implications for Water Quality
What does this mean for the Haw?
The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce. CAFO manure contains a variety of potential contaminants. It can contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment or silage leachate from corn feed. Annually, it is estimated that livestock animals in the U.S. produce each year somewhere between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. produce, or as much as 1.2–1.37 billion tons of waste (EPA, 2005). Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.
There are over 100 poultry operations, and 6 swine operations in the basin. Many of these poultry operations sit directly adjacent to streams. Chicken litter piles are often left uncovered, exposed to wind and rain that carry bacteria and high levels of nutrients into those streams.
In addition to polluting ground and surface water, CAFOs also contribute to the reduction of air quality in areas surrounding industrial farms. Animal feeding operations produce several types of air emissions – and CAFOs produce even more emissions due to their size. The primary cause of gaseous emissions is the decomposition of animal manure, while particulate substances are caused by the movement of animals. The most typical pollutants found in air surrounding CAFOs are ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and particulate matter, all of which have varying human health risks (CDC 2010).
We are partnering with certified labs throughout the state to document nutrient and bacteria violations in surface waters. We are also working with other Riverkeepers in the state to advocate for more protective water quality standards and regulations for waste management at these industrial meat production facilities. Currently, our state allows big corporations to receive all of the profits and ownership of the facilities, leaving the small facility operator with all of the debt and liability for waste management and water contamination. We advocate to push that liability back to the corporations.
We are fortunate to have so many sustainable meat growers in our basin who are providing an alternative to the industrial meat food system. If you eat meat, support clean water by supporting your local and sustainable farmer.