Food & Environment Reporting Network: A Breathtaking Lack of Oversight for Air Emissions From Animal Farms
Large animal farms across the country release tons of noxious gasses and emissions dangerous to humans and the environment like ammonia and hydrogen sulfate every day. How much exactly? We don’t know: the federal government does not track the cumulative air pollution produced from the country’s largest farms despite the risks.
A recent article from the Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN) quoted Associate Professor of Applied Environmental Health Dr. Sacoby Wilson in a discussion of a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to the report, the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) data on emissions from the nation’s largest farms has “pervasive gaps.”
At one time the EPA was developing a regulatory process for farm air emissions, but the project began two decades ago and is behind schedule.
Studies have shown these farms' emissions are linked to increases in asthma, lung disease, mood disorders, and other conditions. The jobs of researchers and those interested in protecting the public from the effects of emissions exposure are that much harder since the quantity and location of the gasses are unknown.
The report follows exemptions from complying with federal air pollution laws that Congress and the EPA gave a majority of farms in mid-2019. Experts in the environment and its effects on human health, such as Dr. Wilson, however, believe the farms need to be monitored and regulated like other polluting industries.
“You have petrochemical companies, companies that are burning coal, natural gas, companies that produce other types of waste products that impact air quality, our sewage treatment plants—of course, [they] have to comply with the Clean Air Act,” Dr. Wilson told FERN.
"But the livestock industry is exempted from complying with federal air laws, and they emit some of the same pollutants,” he continued. “That’s the problem.”
Dr. Wilson’s decade of work on environmental health and justice issues includes studies into livestock farms and the impact of air pollution on communities. Low-income people of color are more likely to live around these farms and experience the worst effects of toxic emissions, such as lung damage, asthma and bronchitis.
Farm pollutants also contribute significantly to climate change. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animal farms are responsible for more than 7 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
“The EPA has dropped the ball on regulating CAFOs,” said Wilson. “They’ve been kicking the can down the road for too long.”