Lynn Henning is the North American Goldman Environmental Prize winner. Considered the most prominent and prestigious environmental award, it is granted for locally-focused, grassroots environmental activism. Henning is one of six winners worldwide. She won for her work in monitoring and reporting pollution violations in large dairies in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties
Henning began monitoring the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) around her farm in southern Michigan in 1999. After observing waste handling practices at some of the larger animal farms, Henning began testing water to track discharges from the farms into local waters. Her work has lead to the state closing one factory farm and fining others more than $400,000 for 1,077 violations. She is currently the CAFO Water Sentinel for the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. She has also been instrumental in bringing pollution problems to the state’s attention.
Over 200 CAFOs are now in operation in Michigan. CAFOs can house millions of animals confined to small spaces with no natural vegetation. The excrement produced at a medium-sized CAFO amounts to that of a small city (http://www.goldmanprize.org/2010/northamerica). High pressure sprayers use powerful chemical solvents to remove waste (feces, urine, chemical agents, pesticides, hormones, e. coli, antibiotics, blood, and even decaying carcass parts) from the floor. The waste is channeled into open pits where it remains untreated for weeks, fermenting into noxious fumes and chemical compounds such as methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. It is then taken to be used as fertilizer on nearby fields where it often seeps into ground water and local streams and rivers. The resulting waste and fumes–far stronger than the normal manure smell–can lead to nausea, burning sinuses and breathing problems. CAFOs are usually run by large conglomerates without local community ties.
While large amounts of sewage are required to be treated, state environmental laws that regulate CAFO waste have been steadily weakened or repealed since the 1990’s. The Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) administers a voluntary compliance program for agribusiness regarding its adherence to state air pollution laws. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has the authority to regulate water pollution at CAFOs, but is limited in their capability due to weak regulations and inadequate funding.
Henning plans on donating most of her prize money to Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), the Sierra Club and to its Water Sentinel program. She also plans to assemble water monitoring kits to send to groups around the country.