December 19, 2015 Wendy Harris
The NRDC is doing a very good job of tracking factory farms issues, and if you think this is not a Whatcom County issue, think again. Any dairy that has over 200 animals is considered a confined animal feeding operation.
In particular, I like that they are talking about spray fields, one is the primary ways that over applications of manure occur in Whatcom County. The NDRC states that, “Sprayfields are yet another threat. Manure is periodically pumped out of lagoons and sprayed on fields. Although manure can be an excellent fertilizer when it is applied at rates that crops can absorb, it must be safely — and sensibly — applied. But factory farms produce far more manure than their land requires, and they often overapply it to fields as a way to get rid of it, causing it to run off the fields and into rivers and streams. Farmers may also spray when it is rainy or windy, or with little regard for adjacent property. In addition, the act of spraying wastes increases evaporation and vaporization of pollutants.”
NRDC also focuses on the air quality impacts from farm activities that are generally overlooked by the public. Factory-farm lagoons emit toxic gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane.Of this they note, “People who live near or work at factory farms breathe in hundreds of gases, which are formed as manure decomposes. The stench can be unbearable, but worse still, the gases contain many harmful chemicals. For instance, one gas released by the lagoons, hydrogen sulfide, is dangerous even at low levels. Its effects — which are irreversible — range from sore throat to seizures, comas and even death. Other health effects associated with the gases from factory farms include headaches, shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive coughing and diarrhea.”
But the best part is that they offer solutions. Did you know that industrial agriculture is generally exempt from the normal reporting requirements under federal and state law? That is why one of the suggestions is:
- Increased transparency. The public should know where CAFOs are located, how CAFOs in their neighborhoods dispose of their waste, and what waterbodies or drinking water sources may be at risk. There is not currently a comprehensive database of this critical information, which should be collected and made publicly available.
- Public awareness and participation. Local governments and residents must have a say in whether to allow factory farms in their communities. The public is also entitled to review and comment on the contents of pollution reduction plans and to enforce the terms, where a factory farm is in violation.