CAFO Toolboxes

Where to begin your CAFO Investigation:  Understand what you see.

Sierra Club's investigations are designed to determine if there is evidence of ongoing, past or potential future water pollution from a CAFO. The basic protocol on this website is used for most animal factories, with adjustments based on the availability of information and site-specific factors. You start by reviewing publicly available information from websites and public rights of way.

Example:  The image shows the Bean-Tiffin Watershed as it relates to the River Raisin and the St. Joseph River.  Several CAFOs are also marked on the map to show which creeks and rivers may be affected by their activities.  The information to make the map came from publicly available Geographic Information System data, and on-the-ground investigation by volunteers.

Pull together your investigation toolbox.

There are three levels of investigation toolboxes: a basic toolbox, an intermediate toolbox, and a full toolbox. If you're just getting started, the basic toolbox should be adequate. As you develop your CAFO investigation skills, you may begin acquiring tools in the intermediate and advanced boxes.

Remember, before you go on a CAFO investigation:

  • Always wear something with lots of pockets that close (to keep your camera or phone from falling out).
  • Keep the Pollution Emergency Alerting System (PEAS) phone number handy: 1-800-292-4706.  Read more about the Pollution Emergency Alerting System.

The Basic CAFO Investigation Toolbox

The items described below are recommended for use for a Basic CAFO Investigation.  They are inexpensive and easy to obtain, and don't require any special training to use, yet can give you a lot of information.  To find out how to use these tools, see Problems With An Existing CAFO?

  • name, address, phone number, township, and section of each facility you're investigating
  • camera with ability to date-stamp pictures (zoom capability useful)
  • road maps from the Department of Transportation that include right-of-way information as well as townships and section information.
  • drain maps
  • clean bottle for water sample (to smell for manure)
  • rubber gloves
  • distilled water for hand rinsing
  • hand cleaner
  • flashlight
  • notebook and tape recorder to document what you see
  • cell phone and charger

The Intermediate CAFO Investigation Toolbox

The Intermediate CAFO Investigation Toolbox contains everything in the Basic toolbox, plus the following additional items.

  • calendar to track how often manure is applied to a particular field, or any other activities you observe.
  • video camera (optional)
  • sterile water-sample bottles to test for E. coli, fecal coliforms, or BOD (biological oxygen demand); you can often get sterile bottles from the lab you'll use to test your samples. See Conduct Water Sampling Near a CAFO for more information.
  • long-reach water sample pole
  • cooler with ice to keep water samples cold until they're delivered to the lab
  • waterproof markers
  • pencils
  • lab forms
  • rubber bands (for attaching forms to sample bottles)

The Full CAFO Investigation Toolbox

The Full CAFO Investigation Toolbox contains everything in the Basic toolbox and the Intermediate toolbox, plus the following:

  • GPS (global positioning system) unit to find latitude and longitude of field locations
  • hydrogen sulfide meter (H2S) to measure air emissions of hydrogen sulfide, a dangerous and odorless colorless gas that causes serious health problems
  • dissolved oxygen meter (DO) to measure levels of oxygen dissolved in water, streams, or ponds (fish breathe dissolved oxygen)
  • digital binoculars, or good birding binoculars

Once you've assembled your toolbox and understand the background of the problem, you're ready to learn how to create a layout of the CAFO.