EIP: Unregulated Factory Farm Air Pollution at Some Sites Now Dirtier than America's Most Polluted Cities

Mar 09, 2011, 13:04 ET from Environmental Integrity Project, Washington, D.C.

Clean Air Act Needed in Countryside, Not Just in Metro Areas:  Citing Health Concerns, New Report Calls For End of Pollution Exemptions for Livestock Operations; Major Pollution Exposures Detailed At Mega-Farming Operations Across U.S., Including CA, IN, IA and NC.

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- New federal and industry data show that the air at some factory farm test sites in the U.S. is dirtier than in America's most polluted cities and exposes workers to concentrations of pollutants far above occupational safety guidelines, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).   While the measurements were taken onsite at factory farms, the pollution levels are high enough to suggest that those living near these 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.

In outlining needed action steps, the EIP report concludes that the problem is sufficiently grave that it should lead to the overturning of a 2008 Bush Administration "backroom deal" that gave concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) amnesty from federal pollution reporting rules.

The new EIP report states:  "Five years ago, EPA suspended enforcement of air pollution laws against CAFOs until the study was complete, and in 2008, EPA exempted CAFOs from most pollution reporting requirements altogether.  But the study shows that many CAFOs pollute in quantities large enough to trigger emission reporting laws that have applied to most other large industries for decades, and that Clean Air Act protections may be warranted to protect rural citizens … [The new] research confirms that the large CAFOs, or factory farms, that dominate the nation's meat industry are major sources of ammonia emissions and other dangerous air pollutants." 

Among the EIP report's key findings:    

  • Fine particle pollution can damage the lungs and heart and cause premature death.  The EPA/industry study measured levels of particle pollution 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.  
  • Ammonia can damage the respiratory system and is life-threatening at high concentrations. Based on sampling results, 11 of 14 CAFOs in the study emit more than 100 pounds of ammonia on average days, which triggers pollution reporting requirements for non-livestock industries.  Some CAFOs emitted thousands of pounds on their worst days.  These industrial-scale emitters 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.
  • Hydrogen sulfide also causes respiratory symptoms, damages the eyes, and is fatal at high concentrations.  Federal right-to-know laws also require companies to report hydrogen sulfide emissions that exceed 100 pounds per day.  While oil refineries are a recognized source of hydrogen sulfide, the data suggest that some large hog and dairy CAFOs release comparable amounts of the same pollutant. Texas has established an enforceable air quality standard of 80 parts per billion of hydrogen sulfide averaged over half an hour, due to the pollutant's effects on those downwind.  The air around 7 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."

The full EIP report is available online at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org.

Commenting on the findings, Tarah Heinzen, attorney and report author, Environmental Integrity Project said:  "No other major industry in the U.S. would be permitted to pollute at these levels without EPA oversight.   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."

"The findings of the EIP analysis corroborate a large body of scientific evidence," said Keeve E. Nachman, PhD, MHS, program director, Farming for the Future, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Bloomberg School of Public Health.  "Animal production sites have been repeatedly demonstrated to release a wide spectrum of particulate and gaseous contaminants of concern; exposures to contaminants measured in the NAEMS study have been linked to a spectrum of adverse respiratory and mental health effects." 

Brent Newell, general counsel, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, said:  "President Obama made a campaign promise to protect rural Americans from animal factory air and water pollution.  If EPA accepts this industry-tainted junk science and implements this Bush EPA policy, then the President will break that promise and sacrifice the health of rural Americans."

Lori Nelson, a Bayard, Iowa resident with 5,000 hogs in two factory farms within one-half mile of her house, said:  "Factory farms need to be held accountable for their air pollution and should be regulated by the Federal EPA under industry guidelines under the Clean Air Act.  Communities, and residents in close proximities, such as me, should have the right to know what is in the air we breathe.  The EPA needs to reverse its regulation that exempts factory farms from reporting toxic ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions."


The EIP report spells out a number of needed to steps to remedy CAFO pollution problems:

  • Rescind the 2008 rule that arbitrarily exempted CAFOs from most of the pollution reporting requirements in two federal environmental laws.
  • Contract with independent experts to peer-review the industry's analysis and establish an independent committee to oversee the emission estimating methodology process.  This process will enable CAFOs to begin estimating their pollution based on the results of EPA's study and existing scientific research. The committee should include representatives from the public health, environmental justice, and environmental communities.
  • Re-calculate daily and overall emissions averages with all negative values and other clearly erroneous data points removed, and use the resulting total emissions to determine whether CAFOs of a certain size should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
  • Use the study's minute-by-minute monitoring data to calculate short-term pollution levels as well as 24-hour averages, and determine whether spikes in pollution in either emissions or the air surrounding CAFOs pose a threat to public health.
  • Drafting regulations necessary to use the Clean Air Act to protect public health from ammonia, volatile organic compounds, and other factory farm pollution.


With industry support and funding, Purdue University conducted the two years of air quality monitoring at 15 livestock confinement sites, 9 livestock waste lagoons, and a dairy corral in nine states, measuring background concentrations and emissions of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulates, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  EPA approved Purdue's methods and supervised the study.  In January, Purdue presented the results to EPA as a series of summary reports and data sets that EPA made available to the public without further analysis.  The Environmental Integrity Project analyzed these initial reports, comparing CAFO air pollution with established health standards and emissions reporting rules to assess the need for increased public health protections from factory farm emissions.  


The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws.  EIP has three goals:  1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.

SOURCE Environmental Integrity Project, Washington, D.C.