The presence of large-scale livestock, especially pork and poultry, production remains one of the most contentious issues in Rural America. For years critics have contended the size and the manure output of such facilities were a threat to the economy and environment of rural communities. The critics have also argued such operations are factories and should be regulated as such.
There have been various efforts by states and even local governments to do that. And, in recent weeks a federal agency has been taking steps toward such regulatory oversight.
In a case that may have widespread ramifications, the Environmental Protection Agency is ordering Seaboard Farms, of Hennessey, Oklahoma to comply with a law governing hazardous waste from industrial or municipal sources.
The EPA took the action after discovering a private well near the operation was contaminated with excessive levels of nitrates.
Studies have associated nitrates with a number of human health risks including cancer, miscarriages, and "blue baby syndrome."
Monitoring wells at hog waste lagoons near Hennessey, were found to have nitrate levels 10 times the amount which the government believes to be safe. The EPA believes waste from hog lagoons leaked into local groundwater supplies.
(Slug: Hogs or Effluent)
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the EPA has authority to issue administrative orders when the handling or disposal of hazardous waste poses imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment.
While acknowledging it isn't sure the nitrates came from lagoons, the EPA ordered Seaboard and a former owner of the operation to investigate and clean up any contamination. Seaboard supporters claim runoff from nearby wheat fields is the source of the nitrates.
The National Pork Producers Council, or NPPC, adamantly opposes applying laws meant to regulate hazardous waste to hog manure, and the NPPC claims the case against Seaboard could lead to similar actions against cattle and poultry producers as well.
Meanwhile in Iowa, the nation's largest hog producing state, where hogs outnumber people five to one, more than a thousand operations are getting a reprieve from regulation.
In an effort to curb nitrate and phosphorous runoff, a 1998 state law was enacted to regulate how manure could be applied to farmland. The law required larger operations to file management plans.
But, Iowa's Environmental Protection Division is behind in reviewing the plans. Officials blame the backlog on a shortage of staff.