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Nearly 200 million chickens, turkeys and cows are making a mess of the Shenandoah River

Darryl Fears: ‘Farm livestock operations line the forked [Shenandoah River] with 176 million animals, and an unhealthy amount of the waste they produce finds its way into the water… According to a report released by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group, which relied on 2014-2016 data from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, about 160 million chickens, 16 million turkeys and half a million cows account for 410,000 pounds of poultry litter and a billion pounds of liquid manure each year in the section of the Shenandoah Valley that includes Page, Rockingham, Augusta and Shenandoah counties.

Farmers apply much of the manure to their fields to grow crops, but the earth can hold only so much before it releases it into the water, usually during rains. Manure is rich with phosphorous and nitrogen, pollutants that algae greedily feed upon. That creates spectacular algae blooms that suck oxygen from the water, creating an environment in which fish can’t breathe — and zones where everything dies.

Different types of algae float with the current and attach to the river bed, coating the floor and killing other marine organisms. Humans who ingest bacteria-infested water rarely die, but the results can be ugly, as the report describes. “Swallowing water with high E.coli levels can cause serious gastrointestinal illness,” including diarrhea and vomiting. “The state issues advisories to beach goers to stay out of the ocean when bacteria levels do not meet the recreational standard,” the report says’. SOURCE…

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