The focus of this article will be on how business pollution directly affects the American population and exactly what you are ingesting. (The amount of incriminating evidence corporations have for destroying the whole world is for another article.) This article will simply provide the facts of what is released into the environment by big business.
While I attempted to focus on air and then water pollution, I found it nearly impossible to separate the two. All pollution comes full circle in America, and affects all landscapes in a snowball effect. It begins with air or water, moving on to soil, aquifers and, worst of all, our homes.
The Nation followed Jacki Schilke and her husband of North Dakota as they reported on what health and medical changes they experienced in their state from fracking.
The Schilke’s property is a prime example of the dangers of this energy source. Researchers found elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene (associated with organ damage, cancer and birth defects) in the air. They also discovered that Schilke’s well water tested positive for high levels of sulfates, chromium, chloride and strontium. When Jacki had her blood tested, doctors found her blood contained acetone, plus arsenic (connected with cancers, skin lesions and cardiovascular disease) and germanium (associated with muscle weakness and skin rashes).
The byproducts of fracking are not just reserved for the air and water; these compounds are also making their way into the food supply. Farmers from Louisiana, North Dakota, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have all reported sick, dying, or mutated herds, which are directly linked to fracking.
The effects of fracking can be devastating. After only one hour of exposure to spilled fracking fluid, seventeen cows in Louisiana died. (Again, after ONE HOUR of exposure.) Of the 140 cows in north central Pennsylvania exposed to fracking wastewater, half of the herd died, and the other half gave birth to dead or mutated calves. Not far down the road, in the western part of Pennsylvania, you’ll see a similar story. Pregnant cows that ingested fracking chemicals from grazing and ponds led to half of the calves being stillborn, and the following year sex numbers were skewed. Instead of a 50-50 split, it became 60-40.
While fracking is a relatively new trend, coal plants are still the number-one contributor to pollution. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal plants are the primary cause of global warming, releasing more carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere than any other industry. American coal companies pump 1.7 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year, compared with the average 3.5 million emissions in other countries.
Coal plants also contribute even more dangerous emissions than CO2. The report went on to state that this industry is responsible for a large contribution of sulfur dioxide (acid rain), nitrogen oxides (ground level ozone or smog) and particle matter (soot or fly ash). These plants can also take credit for contributing to over half of the man-made mercury emissions (toxic heavy metal). Researchers have also found, to lesser extents: lead, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (forms ozone), and arsenic; which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.
Another huge impact, courtesy of the coal industry, is the way the raw product is collected. EARTHWORKS released a report this month detailing the effects mines have on America’s water sources. The report found forty different hardrock mines will generate between 17 to 27 billion gallons of contaminated water per year, costing taxpayers between $57-67 billion.
So with what exactly are our waterways being infected? Something called acid mine drainage. It is essentially a sulfuric acid on steroids. After the sulfuric acid is created from sulfides in the rock being exposed to air and water, the acid goes on to leech with other surrounding metals creating a “toxic soup.” Mines dealing with this problem must have continuous on-site treatment.
Montana has been battling 350 abandoned mines, which have plagued ranches and farms for decades. The Anaconda Mine has been discharging 180,000 gallons of acid a day for the past 80 years, which contributes over 82,000 pounds of iron, 55,000 pounds of aluminum and 983,000 pounds of sulfate per year to Belt Creek. These mines have already contaminated aquifers, lakes, streams, wildlife habitats and contamination has even made its way to agricultural lands (we are potentially ingesting this shit.) The worst part is there is no simple cleanup for this. No mines that exist today have shown proof that the drainage can be stopped once it becomes a large-scale problem. This acid will be perpetually created for the next hundreds, or even thousands, of years. So for the next who-knows-how-long, taxpayers will be paying $57-67 billion a year to clean up this industry’s mess long after it no longer exists.
While the agriculture industry is immensely impacted from other industry’s pollution, it is hardly just a victim. Agriculture runoff is the most devastating impact from the food industry. These companies release millions, if not billions, of gallons of shit, piss, and poison (or in proper terms sediments, nutrients and pesticides) into our drinking water every year, and get paid to do it.
Let’s start the sediments and nutrients that are released into our water. Giant livestock farms have become the norm in the agribusiness era. These places house hundreds or even thousands of farm animals ranging from cows to pigs to chickens.
According to Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), from 1980 to 2011, the number of hog operations dropped from 666,000 to 69,000, while continuing to sell the same amount of product; about 70 percent of beef comes from farms with at least 5,000 head of cattle, and 90 percent of the poultry industry is now run by only 10 companies. While shoving all of these animals into small places is a great way to save land and money, the effects are beyond repulsive.
Iowa can be proud to crown itself the King of Shit of America. The state houses around 18 million hogs, 1.2 million beef cattle, 52.4 million egg-laying hens, 1 million broiler chickens and 64,500 dairy cows, all of which release “as much untreated manure as the sewage from 471 million people—more than the entire US population.”
Problems with drinking water also come from what is being used on crops. Excess nitrogen, added to crops to help growth, and fertilizers have led to nitrate pollution. Excess nitrate in drinking water can lead to things like spontaneous abortions and blue baby syndrome, which this state has been dealing with this for decades.
California, the largest crop-producing state, has had persistence problems for decades with nitrate levels in drinking water; 96 percent of the human-generated nitrate in California comes from cropland. Officials identified agriculture and cows as polluting over 100,000 square miles of ground water.
A report conducted by The Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California assessed the levels of nitrate in California’s drinking water. Over the past hundred years, the creation of nitrogen in California has increased tenfold due to human activities. The study sampled nearly 20,000 drinking wells, 100,000 times in the four-county Tulare Basin and Monterey County portion of Salinas Valley. They found one in 10 raw samples exceeded safe consumption levels of nitrate.
Let’s move on to pesticides. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control released a massive 529-paged report entitled, “National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals.” The report detailed every pesticide used in the United Sates. If this doesn’t speak volumes about the excess use of chemicals, then I don’t know what will.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a 2006-2007 report analyzing the amount of pesticides released in America. In total, the U.S. releases approximately 5.1 billion pounds of pesticides a year.
Agriculture, of course, was the biggest contributor when it came to conventional pesticides (chemicals or other substances developed and produced primarily or only for use as pesticides.) The report compared the use of pesticide categories like herbicides, plant growth regulators (PGRs), insecticides, miticides, fungicides, nematicides, fumigants and others. The industry discharged a total of 643 million pounds of chemicals in 2006 and contributed another 684 pounds in 2007. The report concluded that the agriculture sector was responsible for 80 percent of the overall pesticide pollution.
It comes as no shock that agriculture is the main reason over half of the rivers and streams in the United States are classified as “in poor condition for aquatic life.” The EPA sampled 2,000 separate sites from 2008 to 2009 and found 55 percent of the tested water in poor condition. What is the main cause? Fertilizer. High levels of phosphorous (found in 40 percent of rivers) and nitrogen (found in 27 percent of rivers) were in the waterways.
As we all know, water tends to move with the current, so this is not just agriculture’s problem. These nutrients make it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico where coastal communities and the fishing industry become affected. As Floridians, we know the pain and crippling effects of algae blooms, and that is the exact result.
Let’s circle back, exclusively to the chemicals in our waterways. You have caught on to the pattern by now; there’s even worse news about all this pollution. When we see pesticides make it into waterways, the chemicals tend to stick around.
Remember DDT, the pesticide hippies were screaming about in the 50s and 60s, and the U.S. banned by the 70s? Well, it is still found in our waters today. The toxic chemical has leeched itself into the bed sediment of waterways, resulting in the presence of it to this day. While the pesticide is slowly but surely beginning to disappear, it leaves so many questions unanswered about how long these new chemicals will be a part of the pollution problem.
Ever heard of glyphosate? Well learn the name because it may one day be the DDT of today. The use of this pesticide doubled from 2001 to 2007. The spike is credited to the popularity of Monsanto’s now commonly used Roundup Ready formula. I wonder what scar this new chemical will leave behind.
So, what did we learn about corporations and the environment? They don’t dump toxic materials once, or twice or even a dozen times. When these giants pollute, they are in it for the long haul.