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Ah, summer at Lake Erie. What could be better? Sunshine, nature, water … run-off from dairy farms causing massive algae blooms … uh, what?

At 140 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the Lake Erie area, phosphorous and nutrient runoff from dairy farms is causing harm to marine life and humans alike. Sprayed on the region’s corn and soybean fields, phosphorous is streaming into the waters. But the real culprit? Manure from CAFOs – a shocking 630 million gallons of animal waste a year – are leaking out of storage “lagoons” and seeping into groundwater and waterways.

In order to keep some air of sanitation at dairy facilities, they must be constantly flushed – a.k.a., remove all the waste produced by cows who are kept in the facilities all day long (about 80 pounds of waste a day). A dairy facility that uses an automatic “flushing” system for manure can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow, per day. A medium size dairy factory farm facility houses between 200 and 700 cows (the EPA considers 700 dairy cattle the lower limit for a CAFO). Using the maximum figure, this would mean that a medium sized dairy factory farm would use 104,850 gallons of water every day – just for cleaning purposes.

And that “flush” water has to end up somewhere. The excess nutrients found in the manure end up making their way to the water – like Lake Erie, triggering massive algae blooms, or cyanobacteria.

This photo from NASA of Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair highlights the neon green swirls of toxic algae.

This is bad news for marine animals, the dairy cows, and the humans in the area. Toxic algae blooms can cause liver failure, skin rashes, eye irritation and breathing problems for humans. Sounds like it’s not a great time to take a dip in the lake.

While humans may have the option to abstain from swimming in the lake, marine animals do not have that option. These toxins can sicken and kill shellfish, fish, turtles, birds, marine mammals, and any other animals in the region.

Because these smaller farms are largely unregulated, they’re exempt from many environmental regulations, like the federal Clean Water Act. The best solution we’ve got to put an end to this rampant Pollution is to dramatically reduce our dairy and meat intake to lessen the demand of dairy and milk. If we do, we’re not only saving ourselves from the toxic effects of algae blooms, but we’re also saving the lives of thousands of marine animals and farmed animals, who are either dying from the algae bloom, or flat-out living a miserable life. The time to act is now. And please, don’t go for a swim in Lake Erie this summer.

What Can You Do To Help?

  • Reduce or eliminate your meat and dairy consumption!

  • Look for organically grown produce.

  • Learn about your local agricultural management system.

  • Join our #EatForThePlanet campaign by clicking here.

All Image Source: NASA