Toxic factory farms could slip through reporting loophole

Factory farms in the US could become exempt from reporting toxic chemical releases, despite pressing scientific evidence that they pose a threat to public health.

The Senate and House are likely to consider a rider to the Omnibus appropriations bills, which would exempt all polluting factory farms from requirements to report any toxic chemical releases to local, state and federal agencies.

Large livestock operations, which often confine hundreds of thousands of animals, routinely emit high levels of hazardous chemicals such as ammonia and hydrogen sulphide as animal waste decomposes.

Moreover, as ammonia falls and washes into streams, it becomes a significant source of nitrogen pollution, which feeds aquatic vegetation growth and, in turn, sucks the oxygen out of the water.

“Odours from factory farms not only make life unbearable for rural communities, but scientific studies clearly show that their pollution threatens their health,” director of the Sierra Club’s environmental quality programme, Ed Hopkins stated.

Although few factory farms have estimated their chemical releases, some large animal feedlots release toxic chemicals into the air in quantities comparable with large chemical manufacturing plants, according to Mr Hopkins.

A US Department of Justice consent decree showed that Buckeye Egg Farm in Ohio has ammonia emissions of over 800 tonnes per year. A chemical manufacturer in Fort Mason, Iowa, whose ammonia releases were ranked the ninth highest among its sector in the US during 2002, also reported releasing the same amount of ammonia per year.

A study conducted by Iowa State University in 2002 also said of factory farm emissions: “Hydrogen Sulphide and ammonia are recognised degradation products of animal manure and urine. Both of these gases have been measured in the general vicinity of livestock operations at concentrations of potential health concern for rural residents under prolonged exposure.”

Although laws requiring the public’s right to know about toxic chemical releases have existed since the 1980s, factory farms have generally not complied with them, according to Mr Hopkins.

He added that a court decision in November 2003 which held that Tyson Foods, Kentucky, had failed to comply with chemical reporting laws, was still on appeal and had spurred livestock industry efforts to escape from reporting requirements.

“Congress should not use last minute tricks in must-pass agency funding bills to create a gaping loophole in the nation’s chemical right-to-know law when the public’s health is already at risk,” he said.

By Jane Kettle

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