Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Farm runoff in the crosshairs

Farm runoff of manure and fertilizer are in the crosshairs of government regulators on both sides of Lake Erie.

They aim to cut phosphorous content by 40 per cent in streams and rivers feeding the lake, and they want to achieve that goal within two years.

That will definitely require major reductions in manure and fertilizer runoff because they are considered the major source of the type of phosphorous that feeds algae.

Algae blooms in Lake Erie reappeared with a vengeance last year.

And now scientists are learning that the blue-green algae produce toxins that are harmful to swimmers.

They could develop itchy, irritated eyes and skin.

If water is swallowed in small quantities, symptoms could include headaches, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

While swallowing large quantities of water affected by the blue-green algae could lead to more serious health effects, such as liver damage.

A Great Lakes cleanup agreement in 1972 helped reduce algae levels in Lake Erie, but they began rebounding in the late 1990 and increasingly have consisted of bacteria that produce toxins. Levels of a toxin called microcystin in 2011 in Lake Erie reached levels 50 times above the World Health Organization limit for safe bodily contact.

Ontario, Ohio and Michigan will be front and centre in the pursuit of the 40 per cent reduction in phosphorous.

None of them has yet said what they are prepared to do to curb farm-source phosphorous pollution.

So where is the Enviropig when we need it? Stuck in regulatory limbo! The Enviropig was genetically engineered at the University of Guelph to exude a substance in pigs' saliva that would convert rations so more phosphorous is available for digestion.

That means, in turn, that the pigs need less phosphorous in their rations and that they will pass less phosphorous in their poop.