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Cranberries: Their Potential Impact on the Environment

cranberriesIf you just sat down to a delicious Thanksgiving dinner replete with turkey and some sort of cranberry accompaniment, you might be feeling quite satisfied with your food choices.

Cranberries, native to the United States, are enjoying renewed popularity. Cranberries are known to be a good source of various vitamins and minerals. And for those on the antioxidant bandwagon, cranberries pack a nice wallop. In addition, cranberries are efficacious in preventing bladder infections, and at least anecdotally, in curing them, too.

But cranberries are difficult to cultivate and can have a deleterious impact on the environment. Cranberries regularly show up on the “dirty dozen” of organic lists, because they are typically laden with pesticides and other chemicals on their surfaces. The use of these chemicals is necessitated by the cranberry-growing conditions. Moist, wet cranberry bogs offer an ideal growing condition to incubate all sorts of unwanted flora and fauna, like invasive weeds and various bugs, including the cranberry weevil. These species are attracted to the cranberries and receive nourishment from either the cranberry or the surrounding bog.

The danger of the pesticides on cranberries would seem to be one of a personal nature; that is, if you don’t want to ingest the pesticides or other chemicals, then wash off the cranberries, being particularly careful to remove any residue of harmful chemicals. But these chemicals do not stay affixed to the cranberries. The cranberries are grown in bogs that are part of  national and international waterway systems. The pesticides that are applied to the cranberries fill up the bog. After the cranberries are harvested, this mix of water and chemicals is then flushed onto the nearby land and connected waterways, becoming part of the effluvial pollutant flow.

Agricultural runoff has been a growing concern throughout the United States. This summer’s algae blooms in Lake Erie appear to be the result, not so much of industrial pollution, but rather the phosphorous runoff from farms that abut rivers flowing to Lake Erie, like the Maumee River.

Agricultural runoff from the cranberry farming is now affecting the waterways of states with high cranberry production, including New England states, as well as Wisconsin.

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