How Pig Poop Is Getting into Iowa's Drinking Water

Thursday, March 06, 2014

pigs (Copyright: Igor Stramyk/Shutterstock)

Iowa is the country’s largest pork producer and waste from the state’s "concentrated animal feed operations" is finding its way into the state’s drinking water.

Ted Genoways, editor-at-large of OnEarth, explains how.

18 million of the state’s 20 million hogs are in these facilities, where all of the waste that the hogs produce goes through the slotted floor they stand on and into pits below, which hold that manure for months at a time, giving off gas. Genoways says that what hits you when you walk into is one of these facilities is “not just a smell, it’s actually a chemical burn that you get in your nostrils as you are inside with the animals.”

Iowa produces an estimated 5 billion gallons of hog manure each year. While farmers inject some of that manure into the surrounding subsoil to avoid runoff into waterways, there’s no place for that waste to go. "The problem is that the soil itself is saturated, at this point, with manure." And, Genoways says, the ongoing drought and winter weather mean that the ground is very hard and can’t absorb the runoff. So manure ends up streams and rivers, finding its way into the state’s tap water.

Genoways says that the equipment that Iowa’s authorities use to measure nitrate levels and dilute the water to keep nitrate levels safe are struggling to keep up. Children have been warned not to drink the tap water. "It’s almost certain that people are drinking water that’s at higher [nitrate] levels than they should be drinking."

Ted Genoway's article is “Hog Wild: How Factory Farms Are Poisoning Iowa’s Water


Ted Genoways

Comments [7]

june avignone from Rochester

Stop the horror for the animals and the environment. Go vegan. Wish this station would be consistent--Speciesm, Racism, Sexism. All the same.

Apr. 02 2014 03:34 PM

Factory farms oxymoron alert] are cheating by failing to close the loop on their waste. Lagoons are no solution, only temporary storage -and lousy at that since most are unlined and leach waste into groundwater. The manure should be either injected as fertilizer into active cropland, [nitrate percolates away] composted for fertilizer, or digested anaerobically for methane fuel, also best done on site. CAFO are big trouble, and should be regulated as factories rather than as farms. Manure is "waste" only because the factories aren't using it to grow feed for their pigs. That probably comes from fields fertilized only by petro-derived NPK.

Mar. 07 2014 08:49 AM
tom LI

Truth and beauty - too bad you have that alleged science all wrong. Foods like pig, beef, fish, etc - with natural fat content do not by default make people fat, nor clog their arteries. We dont absorb fat like that our bodies manufacture the plaque that clogs so many peoples arteries, its not ingested by eating good quality meats, even some tasty and good fatty meats. The fat that clogs our arteries is due to when people eat stuff like execess amounts of products filled with corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, we dose ourselves with Rx drugs and hormones, as well as chemicals in the food chain that trigger excess hormone production. (How many bottles of water you drink to day? Oops those plastic bottles.) Plus, there is an ever growing segment of society that is sedentary and barely exerts themselves except to amble to the food court, way too many already on scooters! Thats not due to those people eating pork!

These people did not get fat or in poor health due to their eating meats! Real meats, not processed meats at MikeyD's or zapped in your microwaves! They got there eating large enough amounts of only a few basic processed food groups, that are rich in chemicals and over-processed ingredients that are empty of real nutrition, and as far from their original form as anything could get. And no where near as nutritious as their original form. Not even close. Might as well eat saw dust sprinkled with vitamin powder, bake it and call it bread. Oh wait, most processed bread is pretty close to that these days.

Mar. 06 2014 06:14 PM
Ted Genoways from Lincoln, Nebraska

Thanks for the questions about bio-digesters. They do exist. Danny Kluthe in Dodge, Nebraska, operates one of the few fully-operational digesters in the region:

While these digesters are great for removing methane, they are not designed to remove nitrate, because that is the very ingredient that farmers are hoping to add to the soil. The only way to really reduce nitrate levels is to apply less fertilizer to row crops and to improve ground cover to reduce runoff and erosion.

Mar. 06 2014 02:12 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Aren't there enzymes or bacteria that can be added regularly to the waste pits to process it?

I think that what they do to pigs/hogs is actually very cruel. The whole industry should be brought to a screeching halt. Apart from the industrial raising of these poor animals, the products they produce clog the arteries of those who eat them. Maybe that's why there's a biblical injunction against eating them...

Mar. 06 2014 01:54 PM

Are there bio-gas/compost processing facilities in these manure 'saturated' regions that will supply both energy and shippable fertilizer? Can we do this and if not, why?

Mar. 06 2014 01:53 PM
Peg from Finger Lakes

Agribiz corporations work with legislators to craft regulations that profit the few "large" and prohibit the many "small" farms. This creates a lot of "buy in" to the the idea that we are overregulated. In fact, the few large operations need much more regulation and the many small operations need much less regulation. But small farmers can't afford expensive lobbyists and the large operations can.

As a consumer, you can begin to stimulate more small farmers to produce the type of product you want by:
1 contacting your local, state and national legislators and telling them you want to stimulate creation of more small farms.
2. Buy a freezer
3 Go to craigslist 'farm and garden' or contact your local cooperative extension-4H program to locate a source for farm raised meat. (County/State Fairs are also a great place to meet farmers and get leads on healthy meat)
4 Take 1/2 day to drive and pick up your order (some farms can even ship to you)
5 Load your freezer
6 Reorder when you run out

All of this takes less time than constantly shopping at a grocery and the meat is better and cheaper

Mar. 06 2014 01:21 PM

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