Key Contributors to ‘Dead Zone’

By James Bruggers, The Courier-Journal, April 11, 2009

Louisville and the state’s Bluegrass region are among the likely sources of pollution runoff that have marked Kentucky as one of the top contributors to the Gulf of Mexico’s oxygen-depleted «dead zone,» according to a new federal study.

Building on work released last year that placed Kentucky and Indiana among nine states contributing 75 percent of excess nutrients into the Gulf, a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey identifies watersheds that are most likely to blame.

Areas that drain into the Salt River, the lower Kentucky River — and even Beargrass Creek — are likely among the top 150 contributing to the dead zone, according to the USGS study.

In the Gulf, an overabundance of nutrients has led to an oxygen-depleted area that has grown to the size of New Jersey. Fish and other aquatic life suffocate if they can’t reach better water, threatening the valuable Gulf fishery that supplies many restaurants and kitchens.

The new computer modeling blames sewage that doesn’t get fully treated, lawn fertilizers and runoff tainted by agricultural manure — and which also accounts for the nutrients and phosphorus that are staying in Kentucky and Indiana waterways and can cause water quality problems locally.

Environmentalists said the study points to the need for limits on the levels of nutrients allowed in waterways.

«Until you have a goal in mind, it’s pretty difficult to work toward solving the problem,» said Judy Peterson, executive director of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance.

Developing standards

Regardless of the USGS findings, officials in Kentucky and Indiana and at the multistate Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission said their offices were developing such standards, and it’s uncertain what impact any new rules might have on businesses, cities or farms. Officials also said they are uncertain how the Obama administration plans to address the «dead zone» issues.

Peter Goodmann, assistant director of the Kentucky Division of Water, said Kentucky officials understand they need to better curb the flow of nutrients into waterways — and not just to help solve a problem several states away.

«We are a little more focused on resolving our own water quality issues in Kentucky,» he said. «If we do that appropriately, we will begin to resolve the issues in the Gulf, too.»

Brian Bingham, a senior engineer with Metropolitan Sewer District, said Louisvillians can expect to hear more from MSD in the coming years on how they can help improve water quality.

MSD expects the state will impose more stringent storm-water standards that curb polluted runoff, Bingham said. And residents likely can expect a public education campaign aimed at the dangers of too much fertilizer on their lawns and not picking up their pets’ waste, Bingham said.

«We all know we are part of the problem,» he said.

Pollution controls

The study, published in this month’s Journal of the American Water Resources Association, is intended to identify areas within the Mississippi River Basin where additional water pollution controls could be most effective, said its lead author, Dale M. Robertson.

The basin extends from Montana to New York, funneling water south to Louisiana in such major rivers as the Missouri and Ohio.

Robertson, who works in the USGS office in Middleton, Wisc., said Louisville and north central Kentucky «ranked fairly high» compared to others for phosphorus, which along with nitrogen has been largely blamed for causing the Gulf dead zone.

The study concluded there’s a 75 percent certainty the region is in the top 150 watersheds for phosphorus, he said.

While the study determined the Louisville area and most of Kentucky did not fall into the likely top 150 watersheds for nitrogen, parts of Western Kentucky and swaths of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Iowa were identified as likely nitrogen sources.

Chicago, the biggest city in the 31-state Mississippi River basin, ranked worst for both nutrients.

Whether in the Gulf of Mexico, or Beargrass Creek, too many nutrients can set off rampant growth of algae. When the algae dies and decomposes, it creates a condition called hypoxia that can suffocate aquatic life. Certain types of algal blooms can leave an odor and taste that drinking water utilities try to remove. The USGS study considers which watersheds are most likely to pass the nutrients on to the Gulf or keep them closer to their source.

Once they get into a large river like the Ohio, «it’s pretty much a straight pipeline,» said Gregory E. Schwarz, a study co-author.

But Robertson said the study leaves room for uncertainty.

For example, Robertson said the modeling was based on general assumptions of phosphorus and nitrogen coming from urban areas, and did not rely on actual discharge reports from facilities such as wastewater treatment plants. And Bingham, the MSD engineer, said some MSD wastewater treatment plants have already begun to limit phosphorus discharges.

State officials said most in Kentucky don’t limit phosphorus, but may need to in the future.

The study also didn’t consider that limestone rock underlying the Bluegrass region more readily releases phosphorus into waterways, Robertson acknowledged, adding that researchers are working on more refined follow-up studies.

Identify watersheds

Nevertheless, he said the report should help state and federal officials throughout the Mississippi River Basin better identify those watersheds that might need greater attention.

Indiana’s water quality chief said he thought the report could be misleading. Bruno Pigott, the assistant commissioner for Indiana’s Office of Water Quality, said its uncertainties mean it’s premature to draw any conclusions about the areas contributing the most nutrients.

Robertson noted that even Chicago, with its high ranking, was found to be responsible for only about 0.5 percent of the excess nutrients getting into the Gulf.

«The final result is saying you have to do a lot of work throughout the basin,» Robertson said.

Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops

Why We Need A Global Moratorium

by Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association

The technology of Genetic Engineering (GE) is the practice of altering or disrupting the genetic blueprints of living organisms-plants, trees, fish, animals, humans, and microorganisms. This technology is wielded by transnational «life science» corporations such as Monsanto and Aventis, who patent these blueprints, and sell the resulting gene-foods, seeds, or other products for profit. Life science corporations proclaim that their new products will make agriculture sustainable, eliminate world hunger, cure disease, and vastly improve public health. However, these gene engineers have made it clear, through their business practices and political lobbying, that they intend to use GE to monopolize the global market for seeds, foods, fiber, and medical products.

GE is a revolutionary new technology that is still in its early experimental stages of development. This technology has the power to break down the natural genetic barriers-not only between species-but between humans, animals, and plants. Randomly inserting together the genes of non-related species-utilizing viruses, antibiotic-resistant genes, and bacteria as vectors, markers, and promoters-permanently alters their genetic codes.

The gene-altered organisms that are created pass these genetic changes onto their offspring through heredity. Gene engineers all over the world are now snipping, inserting, recombining, rearranging, editing, and programming genetic material. Animal genes and even human genes are randomly inserted into the chromosomes of plants, fish, and animals, creating heretofore unimaginable transgenic life forms. For the first time in history, transnational biotechnology corporations are becoming the architects and «owners» of life.

With little or no regulatory restraints, labeling requirements, or scientific protocol, bio-engineers have begun creating hundreds of new GE «Frankenfoods» and crops. The research is done with little concern for the human and environmental hazards and the negative socioeconomic impacts on the world’s several billion farmers and rural villagers.

An increasing number of scientists are warning that current gene-splicing techniques are crude, inexact, and unpredictable-and therefore inherently dangerous. Yet, pro-biotech governments and regulatory agencies, led by the US, maintain that GE foods and crops are «substantially equivalent» to conventional foods, and therefore require neither mandatory labeling nor pre-market safety-testing.

This Brave New World of Frankenfoods is frightening. There are currently more than four dozen GE foods and crops being grown or sold in the US. These foods and crops are widely dispersed into the food chain and the environment. Over 80 million acres of GE crops are presently under cultivation in the US, while up to 750,000 dairy cows are being injected regularly with Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH). Most supermarket processed food items now «test positive» for the presence of GE ingredients. In addition, several dozen more GE crops are in the final stages of development and will soon be released into the environment and sold in the marketplace. The «hidden menu» of these unlabeled GE foods and food ingredients in the US now includes soybeans, soy oil, corn, potatoes, squash, canola oil, cottonseed oil, papaya, tomatoes, and dairy products.

GE food and fiber products are inherently unpredictable and dangerous-for humans, for animals, the environment, and for the future of sustainable and organic agriculture. As Dr. Michael Antoniou, a British molecular scientist points out, gene-splicing has already resulted in the «unexpected production of toxic substances… in genetically engineered bacteria, yeast, plants, and animals with the problem remaining undetected until a major health hazard has arisen». The hazards of GE foods and crops fall into three categories: human health hazards, environmental hazards, and socio-economic hazards. A brief look at the already-proven and likely hazards of GE products provides a convincing argument for why we need a global moratorium on all GE foods and crops.

Toxins & Poisons

GE products clearly have the potential to be toxic and a threat to human health. In 1989, a genetically engineered brand of L-tryptophan, a common dietary supplement, killed 37 Americans. More than 5,000 others were permanently disabled or afflicted with a potentially fatal and painful blood disorder, eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS), before it was recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The manufacturer, Showa Denko, Japan’s third largest chemical company, had for the first time in 1988-89 used GE bacteria to produce the over-the-counter supplement. It is believed that the bacteria somehow became contaminated during the recombinant DNA process. Showa Denko has paid out over $2 billion in damages to EMS victims.

Feeding the World Slowly, Ethically, Sustainably

By Anthea Torr, Biophile Magazine

Our planet is facing many dangers. Her very survival is being threatened as we plunder and pollute her at a pace that outstrips her capacity to sustain life.

“The great fruit salad story… fruit salad from tree to table by modern, industrial, unsafe, irrational, global warming contributing, quasi-scientific, bureaucratically controlled, fuel-inefficient, economically perverse farming and distribution methods compared to an indigenous person who will expend one calorie to get 4 calories of food – I wonder how much energy is wasted to get your food to the table.” ~The Little Earth Book – by James BrugesOur planet is facing many dangers. Her very survival is being threatened as we plunder and pollute her at a pace that outstrips her capacity to sustain life. Leer más

The Carbon Connection

The Rodale Institute: Worldwatch Institute authors join Rodale Institute in answering the climate question with smart food production

Terrestrial carbon sequestration is the best way to buy time in a warming world. Cutting emissions will help, but not as immediately as sequestration. Making sequestration a priority matters, given critical policy choices that must be made as evidence of current, specific climate-change impacts to agriculture and wildlife mounts.

The Rodale Institute’s vigorous call for land-based biological sequestration dovetails with contentions found in a recently published Worldwatch Institute report on climate change: 2009 State of the World: Into a Warming World. A chapter entitled “Farming and Land Use to Cool the Planet” by Sara J. Scherr and Sajal Sthapit examines ways to reverse the trend of environmentally destructive agriculture and use carbon sequestration to mitigate climate change. Leer más

Is This Factory Farming’s Tobacco Moment?

By Will Allen and Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association, April 8, 2010

The nation’s chemical and energy-intensive food and farming system, Food Inc., is out-of-control, posing a mortal threat to public health, the environment, and climate stability.

Economically stressed and distracted consumers have become dependent on a factory farm system designed to provide cheap processed food that may be cosmetically perfect and easily shipped, but which is seriously degraded in terms of purity and nutritional value.

USDA studies reveal that the food currently grown on America’s chemical-intensive farms contains drastically less vitamins and essential trace minerals than the food produced 50 years ago (when far less pesticides and chemical fertilizers were used). As even Time magazine has admitted recently, given the hidden costs of damage to public health, climate stability, and the environment, conventional (factory farm) food is extremely expensive. Much of Food Inc.’s common fare is not only nutritionally deficient, but also routinely contaminated–laced with pesticide residues, antibiotics, hormones, harmful bacteria and viruses, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and toxic chemicals. 1 Like tobacco, factory farm food is dangerous to your health. No wonder organic food is by far the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have shown that many of the nation’s favorite foods are contaminated with a lethal cocktail of the most toxic chemicals, putting consumers, and especially children and infants (who are up to 100 times more sensitive to toxic chemicals) at risk. For those living in factory farming communities and working on farms, the constant exposure to the most toxic pesticides poses an even greater risk than the general population for cancer, birth defects, asthma, Parkinson’s, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Alzheimer’s, liver, kidney, heart disease, and many other ailments. Forty-eight percent of U.S. women now get cancer, as well as 38% of men.

There is now conclusive evidence that exposure to farm and household chemicals (including body care and cleaning products) greatly increase your chances of getting cancer or other serious diseases. This is why there are large and growing clusters of cancers and birth defects in farm and urban communities all over the U.S. These clusters are a direct result of the use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers on our farms, ranches, gardens, and lawns. 2

Several recent French court decisions have determined that farmers are suffering from leukemia, Parkinson’s, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and myeloma cancers as a direct result of chemicals they’ve used on their farms. 3 The chemicals causing these cancers and leukemia are the same chemicals used to grow food in the U.S.

Besides the damage to human health from pesticide use, chemical agriculture’s use of synthetic fertilizers and sewage sludge have polluted the nation’s streams, creeks, rivers, oceans, drinking water, and millions of acres of farmland. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Working Group, two-thirds of the U.S. population is drinking water contaminated with high levels of nitrates and nitrites, caused by nitrate fertilizer runoff from factory farms. Large areas along our coastlines, bays, and gulfs have become «dead zones» as a result of excess nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge flowing into them. Serious illness and death are directly attributable to high levels of nitrates and pesticides in drinking water. 4

Factory farming’s carbon footprint is also huge. Government officials have consistently failed to regulate agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions or even admit that they are a serious problem. Most official estimates of greenhouse gas pollution of U.S. agriculture range from a ridiculously low 7% to 12% of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recent analysis has demonstrated that U.S. factory farms and industrial agriculture are responsible for at least 35%, and possibly up to 50%, of greenhouse gas emissions. 5 Unfortunately, agriculture is currently exempted from even weak U.S. efforts to control greenhouse gases, including the recent cap and trade legislation passed by the House of Representatives. 6 Hopefully the most recent U.S. EPA directives in December 2009 on curbing greenhouse gasses will apply to agriculture, our most polluting industry. However, «just say no» Republican and Democratic congressmen are doing the bidding of their pesticide, fertilizer, and petroleum clients (instead of their constituents) and have vowed to block any efforts by the EPA to regulate emissions.