A toxic situation

To the Editor:

With all the interest in the Ice Bucket ALS challenge, I'd like to pose a thought problem using information taken from recent newspaper and magazine articles:

1. ALS seems to be clustering around Lake Champlain

2. Dartmouth Researchers seem to think that it's related to the algae blooms, or cyanobacteria.

3. A Harvard University study in 2008 found that exposure to formaldehyde increased the chances of getting ALS by 34 percent.

4. Algae blooms are related to high phosphorus amounts, which are in large part attributed to farm runoff.

One little known fact: When manure pits were designed, there was supposed to be a separate storage facility for milkhouse waste water, i.e. , acids, bases, and chlorinated sanitizers. Unfortunately they were poorly designed and the butterfat clogged up the drainage holes. Thus these chemicals and foot bath chemicals, i.e., formaldehyde, moldy and antibiotic laden feed, and other assorted material many times get dumped into the pits instead of being treated as chemical wastes. In a free stall barn, chemicals and animal parts like placentas are just included in the waste. They all go into one giant soup, and the concoction heats up, then agitated, and then spread on farm fields, with an unknown amount going into rivers and eventually Lake Champlain. Maybe there is more than just phosphorus in those toxic algae blooms.

If one questions the quantity of chemicals which can create a toxic situation, just take a look at the August issue of Scientific American. There it states that it has been found that people naturally urinating in public swimming pools treated with chlorine have coincidentally created the toxic gas chloramine, which has been proven in small amounts to cause unusual respiratory distress in lifeguards. Again, a treatment for bacteria turning into a toxic soup because of the unpredicted reaction of chlorine with nitrogen amines in human urine.

In the 1980s when Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture, farmers were pressured to go large, and engineers designed pits as an easy "fix" to a very large problem. The design did not anticipate disposal of the many hazardous chemicals and moldy, antibiotic laden feed that actually go into the pits. There should be a mandated and verified chemical management plan to dispose of all chemicals and treat them as toxic wastes.

"For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit." -- Psalm 28

Amy Cochran

Montgomery, Vt


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