June 15, 2016


Tell the EPA to Declare Lake Erie "Impaired"!

It’s not even summer yet and the algae that plagues Lake Erie and many inland lakes is already causing trouble. The suffocating, sometimes poisonous growth fed mainly by nutrient runoff from agriculture—including animal waste from factory farms—typically causes havoc later in the season. Yet, on June 3 an algal bloom containing microcystin in the Maumee River near Defiance, OH prompted a “no contact” advisory warning against swimming and wading for children, pregnant or nursing women and pets. This is the same toxin that poisoned the Lake Erie water supply for a half-million people in Toledo and southern Michigan in 2014.

The Defiance water warning happened one day after Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM) recorded dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in the air of Lenawee County.  The pollution came from manure particles released when waste from local factory farms was sprayed on fields, a common practice that can also lead to runoff in waterways.  ECCSCM members found outdoor H2S readings exceeding OSHA Worker Safety and US ArmyCorps of Engineers permissible exposure levels, which they posted on their website, www.nocafos.org. Breathing at the levels they recorded is considered dangerous, and some members had to leave their home for days.

Though miles apart, these incidents are connected by the Western Lake Erie Watershed, which encompasses both the Maumee River, the largest tributary to Lake Erie, and Michigan’s Raisin River in Lenawee County. As shown in the Less=More Coalition’s groundbreaking report, Follow the Manure: Factory Farms and Lake Erie Algal Blooms, the watershed contains 146 factory farms with nearly 12 million livestock that annually generate over 630 million gallons of waste containing dissolved phosphorus that feeds toxic algae. Some of it originates in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties where ECCSCM members choked on toxic air earlier this month, and eventually joins the waste from dozens of animal factories in the Maumee headed for Lake Erie.

Air and water pollution are the hidden costs of a heavily subsidized industrial food system that churns out deceptively cheap food. Less=More, a sustainable agriculture coalition led by Sierra Club, is tackling the unfair playing field created by taxpayer subsidies and working to shift support away from polluting factory farms to sustainable agriculture. 

This is a long-term solution, but our government could take a big step right now by declaring Lake Erie an “impaired watershed” for nutrients like phosphorus. This federal designation would set a quantitative standard called a Total Maximum Daily Load that could be consistently measured, and regulations could be created and enforced to meet this standard. Michigan currently has phosphorus standards for industry and wastewater treatment plants but none for agriculture.

Join us in calling for action on Lake Erie today! Call or email U.S. EPA Region 5 (Great Lakes Region) Director Robert A. Kaplan and urge him to declare Lake Erie "impaired." Call or email TODAY: (312) 886-3000 or kaplan.robert@epa.gov