Ferner’s megafarm claim possibly accurate

10/24/2015
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Ferner

THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER

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Ferner

Toledo mayoral candidate Mike Ferner claimed Friday that area megafarms produce the waste equivalent of Chicago and Los Angeles combined.

That’s a lot of poop. But is it true?

Possibly.

But even though it wasn’t independently verified by several sources contacted by The Blade, nobody denied it, either.

Mr. Ferner — who said Friday night he was unable to put his finger on the information’s source — said his fundamental point is that responsible management of animal manure is a challenge much bigger than many people realize, especially when it comes to reducing algae-feeding phosphorus that gets in western Lake Erie tributaries.

Mr. Ferner offered the analogy near the end of a two-page statement sent out to area news outlets earlier Friday.

In his statement, he echoed his call for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare Lake Erie’s western basin an “impaired watershed,” a move that nine environmental and sportsman groups are likewise promoting as the Rotary Club of Toledo’s much-anticipated Lake Erie conference got under way.

Doing so would require more federal oversight for western Lake Erie and make the region eligible for more federal research dollars aimed at fingering out pollution sources.

So let’s consider some numbers:

Chicago has 2.7 million people within its city limits and nearly 10 million in its metropolitan area.

Los Angeles has 3.8 million in the city and 12.8 million in its metro area.

Estimates on the average poop production vary.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a human adult excretes 100 to 250 grams (3 to 8 ounces) of feces daily.

So, roughly, one can figure that Chicago and Los Angeles produce anywhere from 3 million to 17 million pounds of feces a day, depending how large of a geographical area and which formula is used.

Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan — the region’s leader for grassroots-level manure research — has created a database of government records showing the River Raisin, St. Joseph, and Maumee River watersheds had 10.7 million animals producing 5.1 billion pounds of manure during 2014, which comes to nearly 14 million pounds a day.

Most of those are chickens, but there are growing numbers of hogs and cows.

Pat Nicholson, who worked for years in Toledo’s solid-waste industry, has said a single cow produces roughly the waste equivalent of 23 humans.

Undetermined, of course, is what fraction of animal manure actually gets into the waterways that eventually feed into Lake Erie. 

Manure runoff increases during heavy rain, just as bypass systems, to a decreasing degree, still send untreated human waste into local waterways when storm drainage would otherwise overwhelm treatment plants.

For more numbers, see this interactive map from Food & Water Watch, www.factoryfarmmap.org, where users can first click on a state, then click on individual counties to drill down to manure numbers.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.