Bay out of Balance
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Broken System Allows Phosphorus Pollution to Worsen
Read EWG’s letter to EPA on the Draft Chesapeake Bay Pollution Diet
Year after year, vast amounts of pollutants pour into Chesapeake Bay, fouling the largest estuary in the United States and ultimately creating large dead zones in waters that once teemed with life. For decades, many have lamented the decline in the bay’s health, but efforts to stop the ongoing damage and restore this once-pristine jewel have so far been largely fruitless.
The three major culprits are phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment, which come from many sources in the six-state watershed. But of the three, phosphorus contamination is uniquely the result of largely unregulated human activity — farming. Agriculture, especially poultry, is the source for 45 percent of the phosphorus that flows from fields into creeks and streams and ultimately into the bay.
Farmers apply phosphorus-rich manure, fertilizers and sewage sludge to their fields to support their crops - and as a way to cheaply and conveniently dispose of manure and sludge. New EWG research shows that in many cases, these applications fall on soil that already holds more than enough of the nutrient to satisfy plants’ needs. In some counties, up to 80 percent of soils tested have excessive amounts of phosphorus, and this excess constantly washes into local waterways and the bay.
EWG’s research developed a county-by-county accounting of where the most phosphorus-overloaded soils are located and revealed major weaknesses in the way that state agricultural agencies try to monitor and control the problem. In part because of these inconsistencies and regulatory gaps, phosphorus contamination of the bay continues unabated.
Read EWG’s latest research on this threat to Chesapeake Bay and find out about the three urgent steps that we believe state and federal officials must take to turn around this alarming situation.