The peninsula known as Delmarva, located at the intersection of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia, is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay on the west, the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Elk River on the north. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Except this is also known as the chicken manure capital of the world, where 600 million broiler birds are raised each year. And that manure is heavily polluting the surrounding waterways, contaminating public drinking water and area crops, and seriously affecting public health.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, these agricultural sources account for 44 percent of all nitrogen and 57 percent of all phosphorus entering the Bay, which isn’t surprising considering that chicken manure contains more nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium than other waste. That makes it so “hot” that it will literally burn any plants it comes into contact with unless it is first spread over a large field or “composted,” which involves piling this manure, along with the urine, feathers and dropped feed that accompanied it on the barn floor, into massive heaps up to three stories high. Rains, erosion, and agricultural runoff from these farms often end up transporting this mess into area waterways via small ditches and canals and enable it to easily leach into groundwater.
This is very bad news for environmental and public health because water samples taken from streams and drainage ditches near many poultry factory farms have been found to contain high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, along with the following:
- Arsenic, a toxin that is known to cause a variety of cancers as well as being linked to heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.
- E. coli, which are bacteria that can cause UTIs that invade the bloodstream and result in an estimated 36,000 deaths in the United States each year.
- Nitrogen, which easily transforms into nitrate, a polyatomic ion that has been found in high levels in drinking well water close to agriculture feedlots and has been linked to spontaneous abortions. High levels of nitrates in drinking water also increase the risk of methemoglobinemia, or “blue-baby syndrome,” which can kill infants.
- Phosphorus, which causes algae blooms that deplete waterways of oxygen and are responsible for massive fish die-offs. If humans or other animals, like pets, come into contact with water containing this algae, it can lead to death, and it is believed to be linked to the development of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and ALS.
The poultry industry is dominated by big corporations like Tyson Foods, the largest chicken producer in the country, which prides itself on slaughtering an average of 35,000,000 chickens per week. In the U.S., Tyson pollutes more water than Cargill (the world’s largest privately owned company) and ExxonMobil (the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company) put together. And…