We Need a Healthy Lake Erie

Lake Erie is an important and cherished resource which has serious problems due to harmful pollution, caused by toxic runoff from 146 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) located in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB). Pam Taylor, a member of Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan and the Michigan Sierra Club, won the 2016 Petoskey Prize for Environmental Leadership.

Concentrated Animal Feeding

Pam lead the study, with three associates, to determine the number of CAFO livestock in the WLEB. Beginning with a number of 40,000 feedlot animals, that researchers had been working with, Taylor determined, by checking the records of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality, Ohio Dept. of Agriculture, and Indiana Dept. of Agriculture, that 11,617,507 animals live in CAFOs in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana within the WLEB. That total— made up of 97,060 cows, 11,056,455 poultry, 9,200 research animals and 454,792 pigs— contributes 690,803,615 gallons of manure each year that puts Lake Erie at risk. Along with manure, runoff from the CAFOs includes antibiotics, pesticides and pathogens such as E.coli, which pollutes local waterways, causing Lake Erie algae outbreaks. Manure and dissolved phosphorous are a supply of nourishment for the algae. CAFOs cope with vast amounts of animal waste. 3,500 cows, for instance, produce the same amount of manure as 70,000 people. Presently, the manure is stored in large lagoons where it is mixed with water and then sprayed on the fields. Because of flawed strategies for containing this material, manure laden runoff makes its way into our waterways.

Health Concerns

Algae outbreaks can cause significant health problems. In August, 2014, due in part to the presence of Microcystin LR, almost 500,000 Toledo area residents were instructed to drink bottled water for three days because Toledo water from Lake Erie was deemed unsafe. Microcystin LR causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. CAFOs are also a problem for people who live nearby, because toxic gases produced by the manure make residents more likely to develop serious respiratory problems. One way of regulating the animal waste allowed to flow into Lake Erie is to have the Lake designated as “impaired” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That designation and the power of the EPA will assist in developing a regional strategy and tougher pollution controls. A local Toledo area group, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), headed up by Mike Ferner, is working to have that designation applied to the Lake. Through this designation, and the work that followed, Chesapeake Bay was successfully cleaned up. More information about ACLE facebook.com/ advocatesforacleanlakeerie

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