International Business Times: Lake Erie Algae Bloom Crisis Is Putting Pressure On Ohio, Farm States To Tackle Agricultural Pollution Problems

Monday, August 18, 2014

On the shores of Lake Erie, the immediate sense of crisis has passed. Following the toxic algae that bloomed in the lake earlier this month, forcing residents of Toledo, Ohio to rely on bottled water for their drinking supply, authorities now offer assurances that the tap water is safe.

But a gnawing fear remains in communities along the lake. The algal bloom has intensified concerns about its apparent source — pollution washing off surrounding fields in the form of fertilizer and manure. Not without reason, people worry that more outbreaks could emerge at any time.

“I’m still drinking bottled water,” said Jessica Morelli, a nursing mother who skipped showers the weekend of the tap water shutdown, worrying she’d get a skin infection that she could potentially pass on to her 8-month-old daughter. “People are still kind of leery. If it could make you so sick one day, how could it be normal so quickly again?”

Around the nation, similar worries have become a part of everyday life as communities grapple with growing volumes of pollution spilling into waterways from livestock and farming operations. Though talk of industrial pollution may summon images of belching smokestacks, the agricultural expanses producing meat, dairy, grains and vegetables are today so enormous that they can generate quantities of water pollution rivaling cities. Yet the rules governing this pollution still generally treat farming as something other than an industry.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate agricultural runoff, leaving such effluent to be governed by local agencies whose philosophies and standards vary from state to state. State rules and enforcement are often lax, environmental policy experts assert, in part because pushback from agricultural lobbying interests, but also because of limited funding and staffing at regulatory agencies.

“The states to date have had a very ineffective response on what to do about this,” Brad Klein, a senior attorney at the Environmental Law and Policy Centerin Chicago, told International Business Times. “We’re hoping that situations like Toledo provide a wake-up call that this could happen anywhere, and that it’s happening with increasing frequency.”

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