Are You Killing the Gulf of Mexico?

Defending Agriculture

Environmental groups push U.S. EPA to action in Mississippi River Basin

Published on: October 14, 2013

Nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from water runoff from farm fields and other sources causes human health effects, kills dogs, and has even caused human death in Wisconsin. Nutrient pollution produces toxic substances called cyanobacterial toxins (toxic blue-green algae) which cause respiratory distress and neurological problems in people and pets swimming in contaminated water.

These statements come from an environmentalist petition filed at EPA in 2008.

Environmental groups from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri and Louisiana want to force the U.S. EPA to control the discharges of phosphorus and nitrogen from your farm and other sources. 

We use nutrients to grow corn, soybeans and other crops. The environmentalists claim with some support that the excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from our farms "…are responsible for impairing the Gulf of Mexico and a huge list of waters in nearly every state."

The petition claims water runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus "is causing a huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens numerous human and ecological communities as well as the basic health of the Gulf,..."  It asserts the Gulf's dead zone is the "largest in North America and the second largest in the world out of 169 hypoxic dead zones in the world."

Nutrient pollution impairs fresh water systems in the Mississippi River basin and watersheds across the country. The environmentalists' petition says EPA recognizes "…the massive problems caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution." 

The petition claims the U.S. Geological Survey has a model which ranks the 31 states contributing nutrients that drain into the Mississippi River Basin.

According to the model, Illinois contributes 16.8% of the total nitrogen going into the Gulf of Mexico. For phosphorus, Illinois contributes 12.9% which makes the state the number 1 contributor to the dead zone.

Iowa is ranked #2, Indiana #3 and Missouri #4 for phosphorus.

Overall, the petition is an indictment of EPA's lack of regulation of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. I have seen nothing to date which defends agriculture and the steps tillage and animal agriculture are taking to reduce their contribution to the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.

The Department of Justice's and EPA's briefs I have reviewed agree with all of the charges made by the environmental groups.

High toxicity

The 2008 petition charges that high concentrations of nutrients being discharged cause high toxicity of nitrates in drinking water. An example cited is the cyanobacteria a specie capable of producing toxins. According to the environmental groups, the toxin can cause respiratory distress and neurological problems in people and pets. The petition claims eight dog deaths have been caused by the toxins.

The petition even claims the death of a teenage boy may have been caused by toxins from nutrients.

The environmental petition pulls no punches and backs its arguments with data from numerous studies, World Health Organization, and studies from around the world.

Legal arguments from EPA come across as pathetically weak in light of the charges made against nutrient runoff allegedly from agriculture

Tillage agriculture is not without its merits, but they are certainly not being told to the courts. The University Of Illinois and Cornell University have engaged in a major study of the Mississippi River basin with support from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Even though the U. of I. and Cornell study looks at fertilizer inputs, it also examines atmospheric deposition of nutrients, the number of people in the basin and livestock to calculate nitrogen inputs and outputs for all 153 watersheds in the Mississippi River basin.

The study does not exonerate agriculture, but it certainly explains the facts which to date I have not seen in any legal brief filed with any court.

The University of Illinois lead researcher has said, "Farmers are not to blame" for the huge increase in the seasonal hypoxia dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. "They [farmers] are using the same amount of nitrogen as they were 30 years ago and getting much higher corn yields, but we have created a very leaky agricultural system," he adds. "A lot of people just want to blame fertilizer, but it's not that simple."

Agriculture's representatives better start telling the complete story on nutrients to the courts of this country. Agriculture loses when the environmental groups and EPA control the narrative, and we are losing!

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  1. TxTumbleweed says:

    The enviro-Nazis slash and burn strategy, blatantly fear-mongering U.S. consumers to eschew modern American agriculture is spreading........... In many cases, when we can get motivated and financed to fight these radicals, we win - however the news of their loss seems to be ignored. Wasn't most of their "data" in the Chesapeake Bay case found to be invalid - albeit too late to revive the region's farming interests. ............ They use Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, sectioning off American Ag for destruction, one sector at a time. They focus on a target, Freeze it with a massive, repetitive PR campaigns, aided by media and even our own Congress, Personalize it by claiming some poor child, or poor Fido died, and Polarize the issue to the point that most people feel they must pick a side. ...............We now have American citizens who truly believe that the food sold in our grocery markets is dangerously toxic. How do you get out in front of a campaign like that, even though their science is usually inadequate, if not purely faulty? ......... "Environmental groups... want to force the U.S. EPA to control the discharges of phosphorus and nitrogen from your farm and other sources." I believe I recently read about a new product that is purported to "fix" those products in place, dramatically lowering "pollution" by runoff. If you get right down to it, is there ANY action MAN can take, beyond a Hunter/Gatherer subsistence, that these wackos will approve of? ............As usual, DOJ and EPA are in bed with ag's detractors. I'm sure there is no political agenda, even though I did hear that rural America voted overwhelmingly RED last November. ............. I am always amazed, and think of Stockholm Syndrome when I hear Ag broadcasters or journalist quote "The Environmental Working Group", as if they are a valuable partner of agriculture............... Another Alinsky rule - "If you push a negative hard enough it will push through and become a positive". Sickening! ............ What our enemies really want is to crush the last vestiges of capitalism and free will in America. They have Utopian ideals of American Agriculture de- innovating back to quaint methods of a hundred years ago. Do they grasp that 330 M people cannot be fed using Amish farming methods? .......... Yes, we are "losing the argument". I confront the preppers with their silly notions gleaned from fear-mongering blogs, where they learn the latest pseudo-science rumors, critical of GMOs, glyphosates, et.c. ..........No matter how many times you tell them that the leaders of the anti-GMO movement have denounced their own ideals, admitting that it was merely about money, they don't hear you. ..............I always heard a newly converted zealot was impossible to deprogram. I ask myself, can we afford to let them run their course, since it seems to require about 30 years for them to "see the light". There are no easy answers. There is no magic bullet. Just as the Global Warming/ Climate Change agenda is still being shoved upon us, even though it has been proven to be false, it seems our fellow citizens won't wake up until the grocery shelves are half empty. I wonder if Russians "saw" the dangers of what was about to happen before their ag production was disrupted and fell to pieces? Seems they lived with rationing for about 70 years...