CAFOs & Pollution

CAFOs & Pollution

Worst Practices = Highest Risk

Spraying untreated CAFO waste is risky under any circumstances. But these 4 worst practices – all of them legal in SE Michigan – pose the highest risk for contaminating land, water, and air. And for threatening the health of people nearby, downstream and downwind.

Millions of gallons of livestock feces and urine, along with milkhouse wastewater, facility washwater, are pumped to huge sewage pits called “lagoons.” Contaminated with bacteria, pathogens, metals, pharmaceuticals, this waste goes on ground that drains to waterways.

• Spraying untreated waste on tile-drained fields


Many farms in the Midwest are artificially drained with a sub-surface system of pipes. These pipes, called “tiles,” also drain contaminated liquids directly to streams. The dissolved phosphorus in liquid manure, for instance, can flow hundreds of miles to the Great Lakes, where it feeds algae, including the toxic algae that threatens drinking water in western Lake Erie.

• Spraying liquid waste on snow-covered, frozen ground.

Untreated CAFO waste sprayed on snow or frozen ground melts when the sun shines or during spring thaw, and flow to ditches, tile inlets, and into streams.To protect the Great Lakes watersheds, the International Joint Commission has called for a ban of manure and fertilizer application on snow-covered or frozen ground.

• Spewing liquid waste from an open-end dragline (a large hose).


Long hoses are used to transport CAFO waste from manure lagoons. Draglining hoses may run across fields, over drainage ditches, through road culverts and over surface water to reach their destinations. Some of these hoses are so long that they extend for more than a mile, and some are left unattended during the application process, resulting in waste spills, polluting streams. If equipment is not attached to the dragline to inject or mix the liquid waste into the soil, there’s no way to control the rate of application. The liquid waste, highly contaminated, may saturate the ground or pool in the field and seep quickly into drainage tiles – flowing to water we drink, fish and play in.

• Spraying liquid waste into the air.

spraying_contamination_001 spraying_contamination_002The liquid waste is applied using pivot spray-guns, or pivot-irrigators, or fan-spraying from tanker-trucks. The liquid breaks into aerosolized droplets containing bacteria, virus, fungal spores, skin cells, fecal matter. The untreated waste is now airborne, and these gases rise and drift.   This suspension of airborne particles (bioaerosols) along with ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and hundreds of volatile organic compounds, smells terrible. The particles are inhaled and retained in the lining of humans and pets’ lungs. Once inhaled, it may triggers asthma, and pose other serious respiratory and cardiac problems for anyone living nearby, and is particularly dangerous for children and the elderly.  “Application methods that launch liquid and solid manures into the air create a potentially hazardous situation as pathogens may become aerosolized and transported to downwind receptors.”
R. S. Dungan, Journal of Animal Science “Downwind receptors” means people and pets!

CAFO-polluted streams

We have seen CAFO brown water, white water, green water, black water in our streams.

Silage Stream 2000closeup white water 2002













Downstream from Bruinsma CAFO (left), and close-up, DEQ confirmed illegal discharge, Sept. 2000 (right)

8-4-09 sample N. Medina Drain








Blackwater from North Medina Drain, 8-4-09

Pollutants in liquid manure from CAFOs can include ammonia, nitrates, phosphorus, causing algal blooms, fish kills; antibiotics, hormones, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, fecal coliform and E. coli bacteria, which can contaminate drinking water supplies and pose serious risk to human health.

Water monitoring of streams near CAFOs shows frequent spikes in E. coli bacteria, as high as 297,000/100 ml (297 times the level Michigan allows for partial body contact). The CAFOs in our area have illegally discharged manure, silage leachate (chopped feed, high in moisture, acidic, lowers Dissolved Oxygen in streams), milk and milkhouse wastes. These pollutants have contaminated stretches of three watersheds — the Bean/Tiffin/Maumee watershed, which supplies drinking water for Archbold, OH, and serves as a recharge area for groundwater wells in Hudson and Morenci, MI, Bryan, OH, and other communties; the River Raisin watershed, which supplies drinking water for Adrian, Blissfield, and other Michigan communities; and the St. Joseph River watershed.

03.11.2015 Durfee Ext Dillon Durfee

March 11, 2015
Durfee Cr Extension (on Michigan’s list of impaired waters) is foamy, clotted, gray.
This stream originates on and drains only Milk Source’s Medina Dairy, Dillon Hwy (Bean/Tiffin Watershed).


Whitewater Downstream from CAFOs- (left) Vreba-Hoff II milkhouse waste discharge


Dead snails in wetland, Dillon Hwy








November 2002
Downstream from CAFOs: (left) Vreba-Hoff II milkhouse waste discharge, (DEQ confirmed)  (Left) 
Dead snails in wetland, Dillon Hwy (Right)

Algal scum in South Medina Drain


Milky gray plume in Toad Creek at Mulberry Rd--site with E. coli count of 297,000:100ml, Nov. 11, 2002






Nov. 11, 2002

(left) Algal scum in South Medina Drain;
(right) milky gray plume in Toad Creek at Mulberry Rd–site with E. coli count of 297,000/100ml,