The Iowa Legislature endorsed a resolution this week that nullifies rules formulated by the state's Environmental Protection Commission to curb emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFO's. The issue arises from the enactment of the state's livestock confinement law last year. The law calls for the monitoring of outdoor air quality. Enforcement of emissions standards wouldn't go into effect until 2007 because the standards were to be based on three-year averages. Monitoring was scheduled to start in December of 2004.
The rules promulgated by the Environmental Protection Commission on the recommendation of 27 scientists from the state's universities, would limit the amount of toxic hydrogen sulfide and ammonia the CAFO's could release into the air. But some Iowa lawmakers insist the standards, 15 parts per billion for hydrogen sulfide, 150 parts per billion for ammonia, are too tough and too expansive. The critics also insist the rules were intended to govern only livestock operations, not to be extended to municipal waste treatment facilities or industrial plants.
The state's democratic governor favors the standards. Its republican-held legislature opposes them. Outside the capitol, rural interests who object to large scale livestock production herald the air quality rules as a step that might curb such operations. They see presence of CAFOs as both an environmental and economic threat.
Those who support large-scale livestock operations are against the new standards and are finding allies. Joining the fight against the rules is the urban business lobby which stronger environmental rules could discourage economic development. Also in the rules opposition camp are some municipal governments which fear the proposed standards could demand expensive retrofits to treatment facilities.
Somewhat lost in the debate was the question of public health.
Dr. Kaye Kilburn: "I think hydrogen sulfide must be avoided everywhere."
Dr. Kaye Kilburn, is the author of the book, Chemical Brain Injury and, arguably, is the nation's foremost authority on hydrogen sulfide and its affects on the human body. Kilburn's experience with the toxin began in the oilfields of Louisiana, where hydrogen sulfide is a naturally occurring byproduct of drilling for fossil fuels. But he says in recent years the problems are shifting to large-scale livestock operations including dairies, poultry operations and hog farms.
He claims that even one exposure to the toxin is enough to cause irreversible brain damage. And he says the scale of today's mega-farms is the reason they threaten public health.
Dr. Kaye Kilburn: I've looked at one in Moab, Utah area where they have enormous numbers of hog husbandry facilities. And the prevailing westerly wind moves this hydrogen sulfide several miles to get the neighbors who are downwind and I've looked at the effects in half a dozen of the neighbors and the effects are there."
On April 1 of this year Iowa environmental officials began monitoring the emissions of some of the state's largest livestock operations. According to the records, emissions reached dangerous levels 22 times. The state has six monitors that take hourly readings. So the amount of time the emissions approached dangerous levels would seem to be minimal.
(pacing slug - Kilburn just a few words…)
Kilburn has served as an expert witness in a number of cases alleging damages caused by hydrogen sulfide emissions and was included in a Minnesota court case which Market to Market reported last year. The case involved a woman who claimed prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulfide emissions from a neighboring hog operation had caused neurological damage to one of her children. The case was settled early this year. But Kilburn says the settlement may now be depriving public debate on the issue of toxic emissions.
Dr. Kaye Kilburn: "…These things need the light of day. One of the reprehensible things that's been done in court is to lock up the evidence when they made an agreement to settle, so the facts are not made public."
Market to Market: "Have you experienced that personally?"
Dr. Kaye Kilburn: "Oh yes, it's happening nearly every day."