Environmental Protection Agency
Dog waste is an environmental pollutant. In 1991, it was labeled a non-point source pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), placing it in the same category as herbicides and insecticides; oil, grease and toxic chemicals; and acid drainage from abandoned mines.
Far from Fertilizer
Woof-woof waste does not a good fertilizer make. It is actually toxic to your lawn, causing burns and unsightly discoloring. Beyond your grass, it has been estimated that a single gram of dog waste can contain 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans. EPA even estimates that two or three days’ worth of droppings from a population of about 100 dogs would contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close a bay, and all watershed areas within 20 miles of it, to swimming and shell fishing. The average apartment community with 250 units has an average of 150 pets. With more and more multifamily developments occurring annually city governments will need to step in and mandate better regulations and enforcement in regards to pet management.
Dog feces are one of the most common carriers of the following diseases:
For example, in the Four Mile Run watershed in Northern Virginia, a dog population of 11,400 is estimated to contribute about 5,000 pounds of solid waste every day and has been identified as a major contributor of bacteria to the stream. Nearly 500 fecal coliform samples have been taken from Four Mile Run and its tributaries since 1990, and about 50 percent of these samples have exceeded the Virginia State water quality standard for fecal coliform bacteria, according to EPA.
Why all this fanfare for feces, you may ask?
Well, EPA explains that the decay of your pet’s waste actually creates nutrients for weeds and algae that grow in the waterways. As these organisms thrive on your dog’s droppings, they overtake the water in a “Little Shop of Horrors-esque” manner, and limit the amount of light that can penetrate the water’s surface. As a result, oxygen levels in the water decrease, and the fish and seafood we eat can be asphyxiated, EPA says.
A Toxic Cycle
If you aren’t worried about the state of your local waterways, you may be a bit more concerned about the impact of dog waste a little closer to home. The thing about persistently disposing of stools improperly (or not at all) is that it kicks off a harmful cycle that can affect your whole family—including your pet.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pet droppings can contribute to diseases animals pass to humans, called zoonoses. When infected dog poop is deposited on your lawn, the eggs of certain roundworms and other parasites can linger in your soil for years. Anyone who comes into contact with that soil—be it through gardening, playing sports, walking barefoot or any other means—runs the risk of coming into contact with those eggs; especially your dog. Some of the hard-to-pronounce parasites your lawn could harbor include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Salmonella, as well as hookworms, ringworms and tapeworms. Infections from these bugs often cause fever, muscle aches, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea in humans. Children are most susceptible, since they often play in the dirt and put things in their mouths or eyes.
What You Can Do
Purchase a PET CSI® Starter Kit and “Match Who Pooped With Who Didn’t Scoop” in your community. Then you can “Turn Poop Into Profits.” EPA discovered from a survey that 40 percent of the people who live in the area immediately surrounding the Chesapeake Bay—which experienced significant pollution throughout much of the 1990s—did not pick up after their dogs because it was “too much work.” Others neglected to do so because they assumed it eventually goes away, or because the dog deposited the feces in an area far from the water, such as in the owner’s yard or in the woods. For all of these reasons, EPA says, “The reluctance of many residents to handle dog waste is the biggest limitation to controlling pet waste.”
So, in essence, the cycle begins and ends with you. In the instance of the Chesapeake Bay survey, 44 percent of dog walkers who did not pick up after their dogs indicated they would still refuse to pick up—even if confronted by complaints from neighbors, threatened with fines, or provided with more sanitary and convenient options for retrieving and disposing of dog waste.
Perhaps if they knew there were services designed to put poop at their disposal, they would not let Rover’s relief become their neighbors’ nuisance.
Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Whole Earth magazine, Spring 1999
Excerpted from Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting, Stu Campbell. Third edition, 1998. 153 PP. Storey Books.