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Food Chains and How They Are Affected by Water Pollution | Sciencing
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Other times, the pollutant may be more indirect, like methane—another significant contributor to global warming— released through the digestive systems of cows. Agricultural pollution is generally divided into two categories: pollution that comes from raising animals, and pollution from growing crops including animal feed, human food, and biofuel crops.
For most of history, meat was considered a luxury. But as disposable income has risen in the past century, so too has our demand for and consumption of meat, milk, and eggs. Between and , meat consumption around the globe nearly doubled , from an average of 50 pounds per person each year to 95 pounds.
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Americans consume much higher amounts: roughly pounds of red meat and poultry per person annually, according to the U. Chickens are caged in close quarters while waiting for processing and sale. Cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys do what all other animals do: poop.
In livestock and poultry grown in the largest CAFOs in the United States produced million tons of manure , or almost 13 times the waste of the entire U. All of that farm animal waste needs to go somewhere. Instead, this waste is disposed of by spreading it, untreated, on land. To make matters worse, before it is applied it to land, the manure usually sits on-site in vast manure lagoons that can grow to the size of a football field.
The lagoons contain a toxic stew of antibiotics residue, chemicals, and bacteria decomposing the waste, a medley that can take on a sickly hue. And once this mixture, chock-full of phosphorus and nitrogen, gets into a water body, it causes a cascading reaction called eutrophication, or the destructive overgrowth of algae.
Livestock and their manure pollute our air, too: Manure management alone accounts for 14 percent of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in the U. Manure emits ammonia, which combines with other air pollutants, like nitrogen oxides and sulfates, to create tiny and deadly solid particles. We humans then inhale these particles, which can cause heart and lung disease and are said to account fort least 3. Additionally, hog waste in particular has been called out by people living near CAFOs for its foul smell. The widespread use of antibiotics in meat production in animals that are not sick is contributing to the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance.
Two-thirds of antibiotics important to human medicine in the U. The regular use of these drugs in the food and water of farm animals to poorly help them survive the often crowded, unsanitary, and stressful conditions on CAFOs contributes to the rise and proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria can then spread from CAFOs via air and water, including water used to irrigate crops, and can end up in animal waste used to fertilize crops. The exposure of workers and farm-adjacent communities is particularly high.
The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are among the gravest health threats we face today. And public health officials warn that the crisis will only get worse if we continue misusing and overusing these drugs. Industrial agriculture permits us to overproduce grains, fruits, and vegetables year-round. Unfortunately, this productivity comes with a price. Nitrogen-based fertilizer has been a major factor driving the industrialization of agriculture in the past century, allowing high yields even on overtaxed land.
But fertilizer has serious downsides for our water supplies and climate. Nitrogen is a primary building block for plants, and healthy soil uses nitrogen efficiently. But under mono-cropping, soil becomes depleted of nutrients, requiring farmers to try to regenerate the soil through practices like planting cover crops or to move on to more arable land. The invention of synthetic nitrogen in the 20th century and then, quickly, its skyrocketing use removed this limiting factor and allowed for a boom in chemical-intensive, industrial farming practices.
A big boom, indeed: In U.
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By , American farmers were dropping 5. Synthetic forms of nitrogen are different in some key ways from the nitrogen occurring naturally in our atmosphere. Naturally occurring nitrogen, known as N2, is more difficult for plants to use, requiring specific bacteria to help make it bioavailable. Transforming N2 into NH3 through chemical processes is resource intensive, and this form of nitrogen is also more prone to reacting with other things in the environment, not just plants.
In addition, when excess nitrogen makes its way into the atmosphere as it often does when fertilizer is applied at high volumes , it can become nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas , or nitrogen oxide, which contributes to ground-level smog. The climate impacts alone are enough of a reason to wean ourselves off synthetic fertilizers, but these chemicals have another major environmental downside: nutrient runoff. Runoff occurs when nutrient-rich material like fertilizer or manure, chock-full of nitrogen and phosphorous, makes its way into nearby rivers, oceans, and lakes, wreaking havoc on our freshwater and marine ecosystems.
Heavy rains can trigger runoff, as can soil erosion. As algae then die off, aerobic bacteria decompose them, consuming oxygen in the process and starving other marine life. Algae overgrowth can also block sunlight, disrupting the ecosystem below that relies on the sun for energy. And in recent years, persistent algal blooms, like red tides that produce toxins, have devastated coastal communities in Florida , staying long past their typical seasons and killing marine life en masse.
Pollution via runoff known as agricultural nonpoint source pollution is the leading source of harm to water quality for surveyed rivers and streams, the third-largest for lakes, and the second-largest for wetlands. But stemming it is in our control. Farmers can reduce nutrient runoff significantly through improved soil health practices like planting cover crops, water quality practices like planting streamside buffer crops, and by following fertilizer best practices. Farmers routinely use pesticid es —herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, and fungicides—to keep away any unwanted weeds, insects, rodents, and fungi.
But these toxic chemicals have serious side-effects. These chemicals can cause many chronic diseases such as endocrine hormone and neurological disorders and cancer. Because of their still-developing bodies, children are especially vulnerable to exposure and face the worst health impacts. Some of the most toxic pesticides, like chlorpyrifos , have been linked to developmental delays, lower IQs, and learning disabilities.
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Since becoming widespread in the past century, pesticides are routinely detected in 90 percent of our streams and rivers.