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Unveiling Michigan’s pollution

Water@Wayne seminar discusses lingering problems in state

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Posted: Tuesday, February 14, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 11:51 am, Fri Apr 5, 2013.

Lynn Henning, environmental activist, revealed acts of pollution from Michigan livestock farms during the Feb. 9 “Water@Wayne” seminar held in the Welcome Center.

In 2010, Henning was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, which is often equated to the Nobel Prize for environmental activism, for her dedicated effort in stopping concentrated animal feeding operation – or CAFO – pollution. She found that waste treatment plants only test for certain things.

When manure is tested, scientists only look for phosphorus, calcium and magnesium. They do not test for the hazardous chemicals in the waste or other non-hazardous chemicals after they’ve sat for six months fermenting in lagoons, which store the chemicals.

A fear of losing government subsidies is most likely one of the main drivers of the CAFO, Henning said. The long hours Henning spent researching and documenting subsidies from the Environmental

Working Group’s website have led her to discover the amount of subsidies CAFOs receive all over the world. The operations have multiple names or limited liability companies, and each draws a subsidy under a different name.

“It’s an unfair advantage to the people that are trying to raise organic and natural foods,” Henning said.

According to Henning, a report on the liquid waste system stated that a one-acre site can lose up to 1,000 gallons of water a day into the ground. The report also found that nitrogen reaches down at least 10 feet into lagoons and that at some point, it will hit the ground and affect the drinking water, she said.

People need to be aware of the pollutants they ingest daily, Henning said. By testing water and air for pollutants, people can advocate for a cleaner food supply and fewer water sources of pollution. One aspect of doing so, Henning said, is knowing where an area’s vegetables and fruits are grown and the potential toxins involved.

Henning is also concerned about a water shortage in 36 states over the next five years. She gave the example of Nevada, which she said has an estimated four more years of water to support a population of 2 million people.

In order to advocate for cleaner procedures, Henning said, she has collected more than 150,000 photos of CAFO pollution.

“This was necessary because state agencies don’t make this information easily accessible and available,” she said.

Henning met with President Barack Obama on the issue of pollution, an event that she said gave her a new incentive to make those who are in charge of regulating pollution aware of the actions of CAFOs.

“If (a pollution regulation officer) comes up here and does an inspection, he doesn’t know anything other than what he sees, and can only find out as much as we tell him,” Henning said. “If we can’t tell the regulators what’s wrong, then they can't help us."

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