VES is a chapter of the international Waterkeeper Alliance which is an organization that fights for clean water for all and strives to hold polluters responsible.
“Everything we do revolves around access to clean, swimmable, drinkable water. We see it as a human right,” Ford said.
Ford explained that the biggest water polluters on the Eastern Shore are confined animal feeding operations (CAFO).
A CAFO is a farm that mass produces meat with 50,000 birds to one house. Ford said that the CAFOs Perdue and Tyson are the top two polluters in Accomack County.
“Between the two of them, they make up 97 percent of the pollutants in Accomack County,” Ford said.
Perdue discharges significantly more waste than Tyson does into the Atlantic Ocean, however, Ford said Tyson dumps waste into the Pocomoke.
“Tyson is currently in a consent order process with the state of Virginia for violating the conditions of their general permit,” Ford said. A general permit allows big companies to pollute a small, specific amount without being sued, but Ford said Tyson has gone over that limit discharging antibiotic content into the Pocomoke.
CAFOs not only impact water quality, but also air quality.
“The National Air Emissions Monitoring Study data show that no farms meet EPA’s Clean Air Act threshold for particulate matter,” Ford said.
A farm cannot be sued though under the Clean Air Act for not meeting these standards because of exemptions granted under the Bush administration.
“Making sure this industry is held accountable and a good neighbor out here is critical or it’ll shut our creeks down,” Ford said, adding it could seriously impact the oyster industry and human health. Some public health concerns due to CAFO pollution include harmful bacteria and the avian flu.
In an effort to control CAFO pollution, Ford said VES is working on an antibiotic bill in Virginia to give advice to Tyson’s and Perdue’s chicken farmers. VES seeks to educate the farmers on using antibiotics as needed for their chickens and not in a preventative form.
CBFS's Tuesday Talk series is offered during each college summer session and brings in professionals from across the Eastern Shore who have careers in conservation and the environment. These events are free and open to the public. Our next Tuesday Talk will be delivered by coastal scientists from the Virginia Coastal Reserve July on 11 at 6:45 p.m. in our education center.