By Keith Schneider
For decades, Americans have mostly turned a blind eye to the industrial-scale livestock production operations that churn out cheap supplies of meat and dairy for the masses. Occasional opposition to local pollution problems and the casual animal cruelty that characterize conventional US dairy, hog, and poultry production did little to alter practices that have become embedded in the rural landscape.
But that may be changing. A new wave of frontline resistance is now breaking across the Upper Midwest and around the country as organized campaigns aimed at regulating concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, are being felt at every level of government, and in state and federal courts.
Opposition to large livestock operations is more intense than at any time in recent memory, say environmental advocates.
“It’s been building and building,” said Rob Michaels, an attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), a Chicago-based legal group working to limit CAFO manure discharges in Ohio and Michigan. “It’s now being raised as a political issue. As a legal issue. As a legislative issue.”
On October 19, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that lends legal muscle to a five-year old petition that Food & Water Watch and 36 allies filed to compel the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue new rules that limit discharges of CAFO wastes into waters. The court said the plaintiff’s petition “raises issues that warrant an answer” from the agency. A Food & Water Watch attorney said the Justice Department has been in touch to schedule a negotiating meeting.
By Shannon Kelleher
The World Health Organization (WHO) is ignoring risks to human health posed by two toxic types of PFAS chemicals, and is failing to propose properly protective measures in draft guidelines for drinking water standards, a group of more than 100 scientists alleged in a letter issued this month.
The 116 scientists – all experts on per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – said in the Nov. 10 letter that the WHO guidelines should either be “significantly revised” or be withdrawn. The group cited examples of areas where they said the WHO has omitted or obscured “strong evidence” of the links between adverse health problems and the PFAS compounds known as PFOS and PFOA. The WHO did not respond directly to criticisms expressed by the scientists in their letter.
“WHO has ignored the last 20 years of scientific research, ranging from observational human studies, animal studies, and mechanistic studies, and concluded that there’s not enough information,” said Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and one of the signatories on the letter to WHO.
“I don’t understand how they could have come up with this [draft] using an independent group of scientists,” she added. “My impression is that people who consult largely for industry are the people who are involved in writing this. It’s very, very concerning.”
The WHO may release its final drinking water guidelines for PFOS and PFOA as early as December, and some fear the guidance could undermine regulations expected from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before the end of the year.
Across northwest Texas, from the panhandle south past Midland, nearly 20,000 shallow, watery basins dot the landscape. Locals call them mud holes, buffalo wallows, or lagoons, but they are technically known as playas. As oases in the landscape, these wetland areas act as recharge points for the Ogallala Aquifer and play a critical role in sustaining life in northwest Texas.
Another mainstay of northwest Texas are the cattle farms that sprawl across the flatland. Texas boasts 14% of the nation’s cattle — about 13 million animals — and cattle operations make up more than half the market value produced by Texas farmers, bringing in billions of dollars in sales each year.
But now, new research is adding evidence that pesticides used at cattle feed lots to protect animals from potentially disease-carrying insects may be posing a dire threat to the ecosystems of the playas.
Researchers from Texas Tech University said in a paper published in Environmental Pollution that insecticides known as pyrethroids were detected in sediment from 75% of the state’s playa wetlands. The concentration of pyrethroids detected correlated with the wetland’s proximity to a feedlot — the closer the wetland was to a feedlot, the higher the pyrethroid concentration in the sediment.
By Shannon Kelleher
A study that included more than 800 young Danish men found associations between levels of PFAS in their mothers’ plasma during early pregnancy and lower sperm quality when the men reached young adulthood.
The findings, which were published October 5 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, suggested that combined maternal exposure to seven of these toxic “forever chemicals” was associated with male offspring who grew up to have lower sperm concentrations, lower total sperm counts, and higher proportions of sperm that cannot travel normally (or at all).
The scientists identified one particular PFAS, perfluoroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), as the main contributor to all three effects on sperm quality, although they caution that more research is needed to confirm whether the chemical really has an outsized effect.
“This could mean that PFHpA is very potent or has a higher placental transfer than the other PFAS,” said Sandra Søgaard Tøttenborg, a professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and an author of the study. “It could also be a chance finding, considering the multiple comparisons we’ve made and the low concentrations of PFHpA. Before we have other studies to compare with and a more evidence on the mechanisms, we don’t put too much emphasis on this finding.”