Manure Spreading Pollutes

The government is studying ways to reduce water pollution from
spreading manure on farm fields. Lester Graham reports some experts
believe the way many farmers spread manure is more likely to pollute
lakes and streams:

Transcript

The government is studying ways to reduce water pollution from
spreading manure on farm fields. Lester Graham reports some experts
believe the way many farmers spread manure is more likely to pollute
lakes and streams:


A lot of times, farmers don’t spread manure for fertilizer in the spring because
it can get in the way of opportunities to plant. So, a lot of farmers
spread manure in the winter. But spreading liquid manure on the frozen
ground means it doesn’t get plowed into the soil. Snow and rain can
wash the manure over the frozen dirt and into waterways.


Steve Jann is involved in a study by the Environmental Protection
Agency and the U.S. Department of Ag:


“When that runoff occurs it can carry manure pollutants with it. And
those pollutants when they enter surface waters can kill fish or allow
pathogens to enter surface water.”


And if that river or lake supplies drinking water, it can make people
sick. The study will compare pollution levels in waterways from
manure-spreading in the winter and the spring to see if pollution
from farm fields can be reduced.


For the Environment Report, this is Lester Graham.

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Ten Threats: Bacteria Hits the Beaches

  • Lake Michigan dunes with a power plant in the background. (Photo courtesy of EPA)

If you swim or play on the beaches around the Great Lakes, you’ve
probably heard about ‘beach closings.’ At best, the situation is an inconvenience.
At worst, it’s a serious health risk for some people. That’s because the
beaches are closed due to dangerous levels of bacteria in the water.
Beach closures are not all that new, but Shawn Allee reports… the
science behind them could change dramatically in the next few years:

Transcript

We’re continuing our series, Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. Our field guide through the series is Lester Graham. He says anyone who visits Great Lakes beach is familiar with one of the Ten Threats.


If you swim or play on the beaches around the Great Lakes, you’ve
probably heard about ‘beach closings.’ At best, the situation is an inconvenience.
At worst, it’s a serious health risk for some people. That’s because the
beaches are closed due to dangerous levels of bacteria in the water.
Beach closures are not all that new, but Shawn Allee reports… the
science behind them could change dramatically in the next few years:


(Sound of dog and beach)


During the summer, dogs and their owners usually play together in the
water along this Lake Michigan beach, but today, several dog owners
scowl from the sand while their dogs splash around.


“It’s e coli day … it’s a hardship.”


This beachgoer’s upset, and like she said, e coli’s to blame.


Park officials tested the water the previous day and found high levels of
the bacterium. Missing a little fun on the beach doesn’t sound like a big
deal, but there’s more at stake than recreation.


Cameron Davis is with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a regional
advocacy group.


“Beaches are most peoples biggest, tightest connection to the Great
Lakes, so when beaches close, they really impact our quality of life in the
region.”


And ultimately, health is at stake too. For a long time, scientists tested
beach water for e coli because it’s associated with human feces. That is,
if e coli’s in the water, there’s a good chance sewage is there too, and
sewage can carry dangerous organisms – stuff that can cause hepatitis,
gastric diseases, and rashes.


Sewage can get into the Great Lakes after heavy rains. That’s because
some sewers and drains can’t keep up with the flow, and waste heads to
the lakes.


For a long time, scientists thought human feces was the only source of e
coli in Great Lakes water, but a puzzling phenomenon has them looking
for other causes, too. Experts say cities have been dumping less sewage
into the Great Lakes in recent years, but we’re seeing more e coli and
more beach closings.


Paul Bertram is a scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. He says, we’re closing more beaches because we’re testing
them more often.


“But I don’t think it’s because the Great Lakes are getting more polluted,
and more filled with pathogens, I think we’re just looking for it more.”


If we’re finding more e coli because we’re testing more often, we still
have a problem. We still need to know where the e coli’s coming from.
Bertram says there might be another culprit besides sewage.


“There is some evidence that it may in fact be coming from birds, flocks
of seagulls, things like that.”


But some researchers doubt sewage and bird droppings can account for
high e coli levels.


(Sound of research team)


A few researchers are sorting vials of water in a lab at the Lake Michigan
Ecological Research Station in Indiana.


Richard Whitman leads this research team. He says, in the past,
scientists could predict beach closings by looking out for certain events.
For example, they would take note of sewer overflows after heavy rains.
Whitman says researchers can’t rely on those triggers anymore.


“A large number, maybe even a majority of closures remain unexplained.
Today, we have closures and there’s no rainfall, may not even be
gulls, and we don’t know why the bacteria levels are high.”


Whitman has a hunch that e coli can grow in the wild, and doesn’t
always need human feces to thrive.


“This is my theory. E coli was here before we were. It has an ecology of
its own that we need understand and recognize.”


The idea’s pretty controversial. It runs against the prevailing theory that
e coli only grows in waste from warm-blooded animals, such as human
beings and gulls, but the idea’s also a kind of political bombshell.


If he’s right, it would mean our tests for e coli aren’t very accurate – they
don’t tell us whether there’s sewage around. After all, if e coli is nearly
everywhere, how can we assume it’s a sign of sewage?


“As a pollution indicator, you don’t want it to multiply. If it’s got an
ecology of its own, multiplying on its own, doing its own thing, then it’s
not a very good indicator.”


Whitman wants us to try other kinds of tests to find sewage. One idea is
to look for caffeine in the water. Caffeine’s definitely in sewage but it’s
not found naturally in the Great Lakes, but until we change our water
tests, Whitman will continue his work. He says we still need to know
how much e coli’s in nature and how much is there because of us.


Environmentalists want the government to keep a close watch on the new
science. They say we can’t let questions about the relationship between
e coli and sewage stop our effort to keep sewage and other waste out of
the Great Lakes.


For the GLRC, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Spring Storms Trigger Sewage Dumping

  • An overflow point in a combined sewer line. The overflow is designed to relieve pressure on an overburdened sewer system. (Photo courtesy of the USEPA)

The wet weather of the last few weeks has caused some communities to dump sewage into the Great Lakes. That’s triggering health concerns for this summer. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

The wet weather of the last few weeks has caused some communities to
dump sewage into the Great Lakes. That’s triggering health concerns
for this summer. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach
reports:


Frequent heavy downpours have overwhelmed some lakeside sewer
systems. Some cities have dumped partly treated or untreated sewage
into the Great Lakes, instead of causing sewer backups in local basements.


Jeffery Foran is an aquatic toxicologist and president of the Midwest Center for
Environmental Science and Public Policy. He says the sewage contains pathogens –
bacteria and microorganisms – that can cause disease in humans. He’s worried about the
material spreading along the lakeshore.


“Probably accumulating at the beaches, in the sand, and in the cladophora, this algae that
washes up in the lake and rocks, and other structures that occur along the shoreline.”


The sewerage district in Foran’s home city of Milwaukee has already dumped about two
billion gallons of sewage into Lake Michigan this spring. He says the large volume of
water in the lake will dilute some of the sewage. But Foran is still expecting some beach
closings this summer.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.

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Disease Testing Labs Aim for Faster Results

  • An artist's rendition of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (image courtesy of DCPAH).

A new animal diagnostic laboratory being built in the Great Lakes region will help farmers and veterinarians get quicker answers about what’s making their animals sick. The lab will also be one of only a handful in the Midwest certified to work with potentially lethal biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

Transcript

A new animal diagnostic laboratory being built in the Great Lakes region will help
farmers and veterinarians get quicker answers about what’s making their animals sick.
The lab will also be one of only a handful in the Midwest certified to work with
potentially lethal biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:


Construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a huge cream-colored building
with green windows. It’s nestled among corn fields and campus dairy farms. When it
opens early next year, Michigan State University’s new animal diagnostic lab will test
thousands of animal samples every week. It’ll be one of the first lines of defense against
animal diseases that are spreading quickly through the Midwest. Testing for Chronic
Wasting Disease, West Nile Virus and Bovine Tuberculosis has already clogged many
labs in the region.


(ambient sound)


Right now, Michigan State’s ten animal diagnostic services are scattered in outdated labs
all across campus. Every day, the labs take in hundreds of samples from all over the
region. Some are entire animals – dead because of some disease or infection. Others are
just parts of animals – a liver or a piece of muscle.


These veterinary students are trying to find out why two pigs from two different farms
died. One had swollen joints and a high temperature. The other one was anorexic.


(ambient sound: “So have you taken your specimens already?”)


William Reed is the director of Michigan State’s Diagnostic Center for Population and
Animal Health. He says the current labs were built 30 years ago, and were never designed
to be used in the way they are now.


“For example, we need state of the art laboratories that have special air handling
capability. We have to be concerned about protecting the workers, we have to be
concerned about containment of the different pathogens that we work on. And it’s just not
proper to continue to run the kind of analyses in the kinds of facilities that we have.”


Besides dealing with various communicable diseases, the new laboratory will also help
the country build up its defense against bioterrorism. The lab will be one of only a few
facilities in the Midwest that’s classified Biosafety-Level 3. That means scientists are
certified to work with deadly biological pathogens and viruses, such as anthrax and
smallpox. Lab Director William Reed says it’s important there are more labs to handle
biological threats to animals and people.


“We will be able to address some of the agents of bioterrorism and it’s likely that we
would join forces with the federal government in addressing any introduction of a foreign
animal disease, whether intentionally or by accident. Particularly, some of the agents that
terrorists would want to use to harm animal agriculture in the U.S.”


University officials say the new Biosafety-3 lab would be safe and secure. People who
work in the high-containment area get special training and have to follow strict safety
guidelines.


There’s been strong opposition to similar bio-defense labs in other parts of the country.
So far, there’s been no sign of opposition to the Michigan State lab.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t say exactly how many Biosafety-3
labs there are in the region because of security concerns. But there are reportedly two in
Ohio, and several others are being considered in the Midwest.


Randall Levings is the director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames,
Iowa. He says the Michigan State University lab will help the federal government build a
bigger network of labs that can quickly deal with a serious outbreak.


“And the whole concept behind that is to have not only more laboratories that can work
with some of these agents, but the concept is also that it would be better to have a
laboratory with that kind of capacity close to the outbreak.”


Levings says another biosafety lab in the Great Lakes region makes sense. That’s because
of the large number of livestock farms, and the proximity to Canada, where there have
been recent outbreaks of animal and human diseases.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.

Related Links

DISEASE TESTING LABS AIM FOR FASTER RESULTS (Short Version)

  • An artist's rendition of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (image courtesy of DCPAH).

A new animal laboratory in the Great Lakes region will be certified to work with deadly biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

Transcript

A new animal laboratory in the Great Lakes region will be certified to work with deadly
biological agents and infectious diseases. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin
Toner reports:


When it opens early next year, the new animal lab at Michigan State University will be
certified as a Biosafety-Level 3 facility. That means it’ll be able to test for deadly
communicable diseases, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, and bioterrorism agents, such
as anthrax.


Randall Levings is director of the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. He says the
new facility adds to a growing network of sophisticated labs able to deal with serious
outbreaks.


“It could be crucial in terms of quickly defining what areas have it and which ones don’t
so that you can start putting your control measures in place to contain the outbreak and
limit its impact.”


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t say how many other Biosafety-3
labs there are in the Midwest because of security concerns. However, two others are
reportedly in Ohio.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.

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