Report: Air quality some factory farms worse than in most polluted U.S. cities


Credit: Compassion in World Farming, Flickr

It’s not just city-dwellers who battle air pollution each day.

Those living near some factory farms in places like Iowa breath in levels of pollutants far above occupational safety guidelines and worse than what many city industrial workers face, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonpartisan research group comprised of former EPA attorneys.

The data comes from a two-year Purdue University study, which was verified by the EPA.

“No other major industry in the U.S. would be permitted to pollute at these levels without EPA oversight,” said Tarah Heinzen, attorney and author of the report, in a release. 

“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. ”

Pollution levels measured at some concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are high enough to suggest that those living nearby may be at risk breathing unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

One swine CAFO in Iowa released more than 100 pounds of hydrogen sulfide on some days of the study. Emissions from one barn alone nearly exceeded those required to be reported under a federal right-to-know law.

Hydrogen sulfide causes respiratory symptoms, damages the eyes, and is fatal at high concentrations.

The report’s key recommendation for combating the problem is to rescind the 2008 Bush-administration rule that exempted CAFOs from most of the pollution reporting requirements in two federal environmental laws.

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