As demand for pork has skyrocketed in our nation, so has the number of hog factory farm operations in rural Northeast Iowa. In an interview with Civil Eats, a local teacher named Brigitta Meade explained that the school where she teaches had only one farm within a mile of it 23 years ago. Since then, a large number of hog barns have popped up in the area, and there are now more than 25,000 pigs being raised within a five-mile radius of the school.
This change has had dramatic effects on the community’s air quality. The air is no longer fresh but is instead laden with chemicals that often make residents feel sick. Meade described the unpleasant scents she encounters most mornings when she arrives at school: “The ammonia is sharp — you kind of feel it in the top of your nose and your throat, and it can give you a headache if you breathe in too much — whereas the hydrogen sulfide, you feel more on your tongue and in your lungs.” Aside from being worried about the impact breathing these chemicals might have on her own health, Meade told Civil Eats that she is particularly concerned about the youngest kids in the community. “Their lungs are little, and they breathe faster than adults; I worry about their exposure,” she reportedly said.
Recent research proves that Meade’s concerns about hog operations tainting the air and affecting local residents are extremely valid. According to a 2014 Johns Hopkins study by Jillian Fry, “In addition to posing respiratory health risks to those residing near operations due to emissions that include hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, endotoxins, ammonia, allergens, and volatile organic compounds, odor generated by industrial food animal production (IFAP) operations and spray fields have been associated with a broad range of health problems.”
Currently, production facilities in Iowa are not taking into account that air emissions from hog waste can have dangerous health consequences for humans. After storing waste in a large pit under the animals for months between disposals, farms blow the toxic fumes outside of their facilities using huge fans to avoid killing the pigs. The issue with this strategy is that the noxious air ends up in surrounding communities, such as the one where Meade teaches.
Fed up with the situation, four Northeast Iowa residents sent a petition to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in 2017. However, they never heard back, and their concerns about the effects of local hog operations on their community’s residents were never addressed. Now, these same residents are planning to file a lawsuit against the DNR, demanding that the agency start regulating the air emissions from hog confinements as existing Iowa law requires.
Under current state law, hog confinements are required to keep manure, which is defined not just as animal excrement but also as litter, bedding, and feed losses, inside of their facilities. Air emissions from these factories, residents contend, also contain manure filled with hazardous waste particles and must, therefore, be regulated in the same fashion.
In a recent lawsuit against Murphy-Brown LLC, the hog-producing giant was fined $50 million for neglecting to properly manage its waste. Hopefully, the Iowa lawsuit will have a similar verdict and residents will finally be able to breathe healthy air again!
Want to learn more about how factory farms are impacting the places we live? Check out the Eat for the Planet Book!
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