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The Planet

The Planet
September 1998 Volume 5, Number 7

Club Beat


by John Byrne Barry

Year of the Pig

It would take 6.7 million boxcars to hold all the manure that livestock in the United States produce annually - all 2.7 trillion pounds of it.

But that manure doesn't get loaded into trains. It's piled into lagoons or sprayed from the air. All too often, through spills and runoff, it ends up polluting streams, rivers and groundwater, threatening the health of fish and humans.

That's why for the annual Big River Week this June, it was the Year of the Pig. More than 100 clean-water advocates from the Sierra Club and Clean Water Action convened in Washington, D.C., for training, organizing and the public release of "Is Piglet Poisoning the Well?" - a map showcasing the impacts of the pig- and chicken-farm waste problems. The actual number of pigs and chickens hasn't increased much, but the livestock has become concentrated into huge mega-operations called confined animal feeding operations or CAFOs.

Despite the seriousness of the problem, the Club's "Piglet" map is colorful, cartoony and full of puns. ("Poultry in Motion" goes one headline.)

The Club used the map release to call for a national moratorium on construction of new units until a national program to protect our water, air and communities is in place.

Event organizer Susan Patton, Kentucky Chapter volunteer and chair of the Midwest Regional Conservation Committee, says she and other participants were surprised at how widespread the problem is.

"Like an adolescent who thinks no one has ever felt like this before, many activists came to Big River Week thinking their community was alone in fighting livestock factory pollution," she says. "They left knowing they weren't."

At Big River Week, Dr. Howard Glasgow, director of the Botany Lab at North Carolina State University, shared his research on the microorganism Pfiesteria piscicida, which has been linked to runoff from pig and chicken factories and to harmful health effects in fish and humans.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, activist Mark Derischweiler reports that his state legislature passed two bills that would regulate hog and chicken factories. Here's what state Rep. Russ Roach said of the Club's role in the process. "The same people [who] are now political allies with the Sierra Club before could never say the words 'Sierra Club' without snarling. Now they're best friends. It's one of the great political ironies that's occurred in this state."

There are still maps available. Call (202) 547-1141 to ask for a copy.

Sewage Spoils Indiana River

You can't blame Piglet for poisoning the White River in Indianapolis. The culprit is raw human sewage. When as little as a quarter inch of rain falls in the older sections of the city, served by a system that carries stormwater and raw sewage in the same pipes, the pipes overflow and the sewage spills into the White River and its tributaries.

To draw attention to this pollution, the Heartlands Group, led by chair Sandy Miles, organized the 10-mile "Ride the River" event, during which 90 canoeists and kayakers paddled down the White, including a stretch through what Hoosier Chapter Chair Lisa Haile has dubbed "the land of combined sewage overflows." Most of the 130 overflow points are in residential neighborhoods. The Health Department has posted warnings telling residents to avoid contact with the water. Despite the Indianapolis 500 time trials and upcoming Indiana Pacers-Chicago Bulls playoff games, the river event garnered coverage on two TV stations and a big story in the Indianapolis Star, which said, "Sierra Club canoe trip shows waterway notorious for its pollution also has a few surprises."

The surprise: Despite the pollution, there are stretches of the river teeming with ducks, heron and other wildlife. The plus side of a river that's polluted? Its banks are mostly undeveloped. The pollution also made renting enough canoes difficult. Paddling the river has not been a popular pastime. "There are only 10 rental canoes in all of Indianapolis. We got all of them," says Miles.

The success of the event - more participants than expected - led to some logistic problems. The group's borrowed bus broke down and at one of the rest stops, volunteer leader Ed Paynter had to tell participants that there was no transportation back to the launch site. But one of the canoeists, a city council member, pulled out his portable phone and arranged for a city bus to get the paddlers back to their cars.

Real Estate Story Turns Into Mining Expose

Ozark Chapter Director Ken Midkiff showed up in the July issue of Vanity Fair - and it wasn't for a fashion spread, though the Doe Run Mining Company of Missouri probably wishes it were.

The focus of the story is the huge mansion that Ira Rennert, the owner of RENCO, is building in the Hamptons on Long Island. At 100,000 square feet with 25 bedrooms, it's bigger then the White House, bigger than Aaron Spelling's Holmby Hills mansion, bigger even than Bill Gates' spread on the shore of Lake Washington.

The Vanity Fair writer called the Sierra Club looking for some background on Doe Run, which is owned by RENCO, and Midkiff and friends filled his mailbox with information on the polluting activities of this mining company.

So instead of a puffy piece on Hamptons real estate, the story included a full page about Doe Run, its violations of the law and its attempts to conduct mining activities on the public lands of Missouri.

Scott Endicott, chair of the Utah Chapter Environmental Health Committee, was also quoted in the story, talking about another RENCO facility - Magcorp, a magnesium processing plant west of the Great Salt Lake that is the nation's number one emitter of toxic air pollution.


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