Wisconsin fights modern farming's water-contaminating ways
October 7, 1996
Web posted at: 8:00 p.m. EDT
ARENA, Wisconsin (CNN) -- Farmers have been using weed
killers and chemical fertilizers for years to help boost
their crop production, but often those chemicals trickle into
your drinking water. Wisconsin is taking steps to protect its
water sources before it is too late.
Much of the state is covered by a sandy soil which is great
for growing potatoes but doesn't retain moisture, so anything
spread over a field quickly sinks down to the water table.
Researchers discovered that some chemicals percolate through
the ground faster than others, which led to the nation's
first comprehensive ground water law, and to a partial ban in
Wisconsin on atrazine, one of the most commonly used weed
killers in corn country. The state routinely checks well
water samples for the chemical, and each year adds to the
areas where it is banned.
"Public health is ... the bottom-line goal. Drinking water
is so important to just human health, livestock, all the
industries we run; that's our bottom line," said Nick Neher
of Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture.
Nausea, diarrhea and shortness of breath in babies have been
blamed on polluted water. So have many miscarriages.
Environmental studies professor Warren Porter, also of the
University of Wisconsin, is not surprised.
He studies the effects of impure water in pregnant rats.
Under ideal conditions, where the rats are under no stress,
some of his studies have showed that they can drink tainted
water without any ill effects.
"But if we start taking some of the food away; only 80
percent of what they normally consume, give them a little
flu-like infection, and then we give them the chemical, all
of a sudden -- wow, things start to happen," he said.
Porter says real-life studies are revealing more and more
about how even traces of chemical pollutants in the water
threaten human health.
Alongside the dire reports is an explosion of research into
environmentally safe farming, aiming to maintain the
country's lead as bread basket to the world without
destroying the nation's water.
Organic dairy farmer Carl Pulvermacher is taking both the
reports and the research on safer farming methods to heart.
He says he's cut out commercial farming's chemicals for his
children and generations to come.
"I'm convinced that the type of farming that Americans, most
Americans, are engaged in right now is short-lived," the
"It just seems like, we're here a short time. I know I can
make a profit farming this way. That's not a problem. 'Why
wouldn't you do it this way?' is my question."
Correspondent Dan Rutz contributed to this report.
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