Iowa State University and the University of Iowa released an air-quality study last week that isn’t setting well with livestock producers, and has even raised controversy among the researchers involved with the project. The bottom-line recommendation was that the state should implement air-quality standards for concentrated animal feeding operations.

The research report recommended that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources develop standards for measuring hydrogen sulfide and ammonia at the CAFO property line as well as at neighboring residence or public-use areas.

The report states that no specific human ailments among neighboring residents can be linked to air emissions from CAFOs. However, researchers did says that “emissions may constitute a public-health hazard, and that precautions should be taken to minimize exposures arising from CAFOs.”

Along with air-quality, the group also addressed other issues relating to CAFOs, including water quality, worker health, antibiotic resistance, greenhouse-gas emissions, socioeconomic impacts on rural communities, livestock disease epidemics and dead-animal disposal issues.

In response to the report, the Iowa Pork Producers Association said: “The executive summary indicates that hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are potential concerns to pork producers that live close to their own hog barns. However, the study was unable to identify specific diseases related to the facilities,” says Tim Bierman, Iowa Pork Producers Association president.

Bierman also pointed out, “it is evident that we need to conduct further research on how far away our pork producers need to live from their swine barns. We also need to take a look at how far away new houses need to be built from existing hog barns.”

There are a couple of points worth noting. First, a petition from the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement initiated the research and report. The activist group is lobbying the Iowa legislature to pass new air-quality standards, among other tightened regulations for CAFOs. This group is known for its strong opposition against “large” hog confinement operations. However, the group has never offered any type of alternative solutions.

Also keep in mind that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of writing new CAFO regulations. Once EPA finalizes these regulations this December, pork and poultry CAFOs will have until the end of 2003 to comply with the new laws. Many states, including Iowa, are facing huge budget shortfalls, so the state will have to at least meet federal CAFOs and possibly pass new legislation of its own, but will still have to find the money to pay for a workforce to enforce the rules. That will certainly complicate matters for everyone.

This action is a developing trend. Minnesota pork producers, for example, has already faced many of these same challenges, and other states will likely fall in line in the future.
You can find the full Iowa State University/University of Iowa report at www.public-health.uiowa.edu/ehsrc/CAFOstudy/CAFO%20final.pdf