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Another Attack on Large Livestock Farms

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(Publisher’s note:  Gary Baise is nationally respected environmental attorney who lives here in Virginia.  His article here deals with a case in Iowabut its implications will significantly impact on Virginia’s farmers. That is why it is printed in the Jefferson Policy Journal.)

Residents inWinneshiek County,Iowafiled a lawsuit in July, 2012, claiming that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) inIowa”… endanger public health and welfare.” The Iowans want to force EPA, through the courts, to regulate air emissions from CAFOs under the Clean Air Act.

The new complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. Little publicity has been generated in the agricultural community by this complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The purpose of the case is to force EPA to use sections of the Clean Air Act to regulate air emissions of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds emitted from CAFOs. TheseIowaresidents claim these pollutants are required to be regulated by EPA because the pollutants cause harmful health effects for people living near CAFOs.

This case must be monitored closely by CAFO operators because it is unlikely EPA will contest and vigorously defend the lawsuit. EPA’s method of operation with such lawsuits is to settle them through consent orders which promise to review and eventually regulate the issue in question!

The case is brought by residents who live near large CAFOs and they argue EPA is failing to protect their public health and in fact is “…endangering public health.” The complaint is worth reading and is entitled Samuel Zook, et al., v. Lisa Jackson, et al.

Clear evidence?
Plaintiffs say there is “…clear evidence that air pollutants from CAFOs endanger public health and welfare.” (The lawsuits I have handled demonstrate that the levels of substances dissipate within .25-50 miles of plaintiffs’ homes.)

Notwithstanding evidence, plaintiffs claim that inWinneshiekCounty, the lead plaintiff, Mr. Zook, suffers from asthma and that a study of the county was conducted on asthma and children with asthma near CAFOs. (There is no suggestion there are hundreds of substances which can exacerbate asthma.)

Another plaintiff is a science teacher in the North Winneshiek School and in paragraph 19 of the complaint it is claimed that students in the North Winneshiek School have significantly higher rates of asthma than in other schools.

To support the charges, the complaint claims that an Iowa State University and University of Iowa study completed in 2002 recommends that “…EPA should regulate certain pollutants released from CAFOs – namely ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and odor – under the Clean Air Act.”

A University of Georgia study is relied on to show that ammonia concentrations near poultry houses “can cause ambient ammonia levels to exceed chronic and acute health exposure limits.” (Based on my experience, the measurements must have been taken adjacent to or on top of a manure disposal area. No producer could allow chronic and acute health exposure because it would hurt the production capacity.)

Notwithstanding actual measurements conducted by defense lawyers such as myself, the plaintiffs attach to their complaint 17 pages of CAFO research studies and media articles which suggest major health effects being generated by CAFOs on workers, animals, neighbors and the environment. There are studies which suggest the “potential” role of CAFOs in infectious disease epidemics and the development of antibiotic resistance caused by CAFOs.

There are studies on the public health impacts of CAFOs on local communities. One study claims that odor is a trigger of stress and negative mood in neighbors.

Operators of CAFOs need to take seriously the law suit filed inIowabecause these plaintiffs and their environmentalist supporters believe that massive volumes of manure are creating human health problems, generating significant emissions of ozone precursors such as ammonia and methane, particulate matter particles, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds.
Residents ofWinneshiek County,Iowaare claiming adverse health effects by being exposed to the emissions from CAFOs, and they back up their claims that CAFOs are causing significantly higher rates of asthma in the Winneshiek schools than in other schools.

CAFO operators and livestock organizations cannot take this Iowa law suit lightly because EPA clearly is sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ claims. Its recent regulatory actions suggest EPA believes plaintiffs’ claims.

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