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Air Near Factory Farms Dirtier Than Most Polluted Cities, Study Finds

3/10/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: air pollution, factory farm, particle pollution, Clean Air Act, hydrogen sulfide, California, Indiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin, Texas

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailThe air at some factory farm test sites in the United States is dirtier than in America’s most polluted cities and exposes workers to pollutant concentrations far above occupational safety guidelines, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP). The pollution levels are high enough to suggest that those living near massive livestock operations also may be at risk. Estimated emission levels for some pollutants were higher at some test sites than amounts reported by large industrial plants.

The EIP report calls for reversal of a 2008 Bush Administration deal that gave concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) amnesty from federal pollution reporting rules. Many CAFOs pollute in quantities large enough to trigger emission reporting laws, and Clean Air Act protections may be warranted to protect rural citizens, the EIP states.

“No other major industry in the U.S. would be permitted to pollute at these levels without EPA oversight,”said attorney and report author Tarah Heinzen. “Our findings indicate that citizens near factory farms may be breathing unsafe levels of small particle pollution, ammonia and other toxic gases, and that EPA's failure to regulate air pollution from these operations may threaten public health. It is time for EPA to overturn the Bush Administration’s backroom deals with the factory farm industry and begin applying consistent federal standards to all major polluters.”

Among the EIP report’s key findings:

*The EPA/industry study measured levels of particle pollution—which can damage lungs and heart and cause premature death—well above Clean Air Act health-based limits at some sites. Fine particle pollution was much higher than the federal 24-hour exposure limit on the worst days at 6 of 15 study sites, including 5 poultry operations in California, Indiana, and North Carolina, and a Washington dairy. Peak 24-hour exposures at two henhouses in California and one in Indiana were more than three times higher than EPA’s 35 microgram standard.

* Based on sampling results, 11 of 14 CAFOs in the study emit more than 100 pounds of ammonia—which can damage the respiratory system and is life-threatening at high concentrations—on average days, which triggers pollution reporting requirements for non-livestock industries. Some CAFOs emitted thousands of pounds on their worst days. These include hog CAFOs in Indiana, Iowa, Oklahoma and North Carolina, dairies in Indiana, Washington and Wisconsin, and egg layer or broiler chicken facilities in California, Indiana and North Carolina.

* Some large hog and dairy CAFOs release more than 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide--which causes respiratory symptoms, damages the eyes, and is fatal at high concentrations. Texas has established an enforceable air quality standard of 80 parts per billion of hydrogen sulfide averaged over half an hour. The air around seven hog and dairy sites – nearly half of the confinements studied – exceeded this level for entire days during the study. Long-term ambient levels of hydrogen sulfide were also significantly higher than EPA’s reference concentration of 1 ppb at most study sites.”


Lots of cows mean lots of pollution. iStock photo 

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