Report Documents Waste Lagoons' Threats to Environment, Public Health

Environmental Groups Call for Ban on New Factory Farm Waste Lagoons

WASHINGTON (July 24, 2001) - Every year factory farms dump 220 billion gallons of animal waste onto farmland and into our waterways, posing a major threat to public health, according to a report released today by NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Clean Water Network. The report, the most comprehensive one to date on waste lagoons, calls on the Bush administration to phase out waste lagoons at large-scale hog, dairy and egg farms, and ban the construction of new ones.

"The Bush administration should force factory farms to close their waste lagoons and install up-to-date pollution controls," said Melanie Shepherdson Flynn, an attorney with NRDC's Clean Water Project. "The administration needs to show it is more interested in protecting public health than protecting the profits of corporate agribusiness."

Citing scientific studies, pollution records and anecdotal reports from victims of factory farm pollution, the report, "Cesspools of Shame," documents the dangers posed by factory farm lagoons, which store massive quantities of animal waste in open-air pits, and the common practice of over-applying waste on "sprayfields." Lagoon and sprayfield wastewater contains viruses, bacteria, antibiotics, metals, oxygen-depleting substances and other toxins that run off the land, contaminate the groundwater, and pollute the atmosphere. The report also summarizes the wide range of alternatives to the lagoon and sprayfield system, including wastewater treatment technology and sustainable agricultural practices that prevent pollution.

"This witches' brew of toxins from lagoons and sprayfields is polluting our air, lakes, rivers, streams, estuaries and drinking water," said Robbin Marks, a factory farm expert who authored the report. "It threatens the health of farm workers, neighbors and even communities located far away from factory farms, as well as fish, wildlife, and aquatic ecosystems."

Despite the devastating impact of this outdated approach to manure storage and disposal, the Environmental Protection Agency has been unwilling to consider banning lagoon and sprayfield systems at large-scale animal feedlots. Under its proposed technology regulations, the agency would continue to allow thousands of hog, dairy, and egg factory farms to store liquid manure in lagoons the size of several football fields. The agency's proposal also would allow new operations to use lagoon and sprayfield systems.

Lagoons are on large industrial farms owned by multimillion-dollar corporations such as Smithfield Foods, ContiGroup-Premium Standard Farms and Seaboard Farms. Lagoons have broken, failed or overflowed at operations owned or controlled by many of these companies, leading to fish kills and contaminated drinking water supplies.

"We don't see how EPA can ignore the overwhelming evidence of the environmental destruction caused by lagoons and spray fields at large-scale animal factories," said Shepherdson Flynn. "By authorizing the continued use of these systems, the agency is sending a message that it is not concerned about protecting our environment or the health of Americans."

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Clean Water Network is a national alliance of more than 1,000 organizations that represent environmentalists, family farmers, commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, surfers, boaters, faith communities, environmental justice advocates, tribes, labor unions and civic associations.

Related NRDC Pages
Cesspools of Shame: How Factory Farm Lagoons and Sprayfields Threaten Environmental and Public Health
Pollution from Giant Livestock Farms Threatens Public Health
Facts about Pollution from Livestock Farms

Additional Downloadable Material for the Press
Backgrounder: Large Hog Corporations Are Major Polluters in Microsoft Word format, 85k