Maryland’s air quality monitoring plan reignites poultry battle

The Maryland Department of the Environment said the state would launch an effort to monitor the air quality around Delmarva chicken coops, but critics are already opposing the project.

It is the latest move in a multi-year battle between the multibillion-dollar poultry industry and activists who say these farms are affecting the health of neighboring communities.

The new plan, the Lower East Coast Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Project, will include two monitoring stations to be built on the Lower East Coast.

They will measure ammonia and particulates for one year, one upstream and one downstream of the barns.

It will be funded in partnership with Delmarva Poultry Industry and the Campbell Foundation.

“It’s a good start to getting data, real monitoring data,” Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment said Tuesday.

But the plan has drawn criticism from those who say its scope may be too narrow to provide useful information.

“My biggest question when I hear about what they have come up with is how representative of the whole industry could that be? Said Keeve Nachman, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Large, concentrated animal feed operations anger neighboring residents.

East Coast activists have been at the forefront of a campaign for the Community Healthy Air Act, legislation that would set out a plan to assess air pollution and the health impacts of large-scale operations. animal feed, including the poultry industry.

The plan failed to make it through the Maryland General Assembly last year and has yet to be presented in the 2019 session.

But supporters say they are preparing to present the bill to the Senate in February and hope for its success.

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They are uninfluenced by the new plan, claiming it is a ploy to distract from the larger bill.

“If Maryland fails to re-pass the CHAA in the next legislative session, the state will send a heartbreaking message to some of its most vulnerable residents,” Gabby Ross of Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFO said in a statement. written.

Critics raise issues with project funding

Critics of the poultry industry dispute the involvement of Delmarva’s poultry industry in the funding.

DPI was a staunch opponent of the Community Healthy Air Act, saying the bill was unnecessary and a waste of taxpayer money.

The trade association and the Campbell Foundation, an environmentally focused family grant foundation, will provide more than $ 500,000 to provide monitoring equipment for the new plan.

DPI will not be involved in the collection or analysis of the data, according to Grumbles, who called concerns about a conflict of interest “unfounded.”

“I am delighted that we have a constructive partnership for the funding of surveillance equipment,” he said. “It does not affect the results or the way we interpret the data.”

Perdue Farms is committed to making more room for its poultry, including these day-old chicks.

DPI has been working with the Maryland Department of the Environment for several months, said James Fisher, the association’s communications manager.

He said they decided to partner with the agency because they feared DPI’s air quality results might not be widely endorsed by the public.

“We see this as a chance to add transparency to conversations about air quality on the east coast,” said Fisher.

But environmentalists and activists have already expressed concern over whether a plan that has been worked out in any capacity with the poultry industry can be trusted to provide reliable data.

“My main concern is that we are not getting the data we need to understand whether the air emissions from these facilities are having the harmful effects that we think they are,” said Michele Merkel, co-director of food and some water. Justice at Food & Water Watch.

Years of contention over poultry health impact claims

Chicken consumption in the United States has skyrocketed in recent decades, overtaking beef as the most consumed meat, according to a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center.

And tensions over the growing poultry industry on the east coast have been going on for years.

The health impacts of large poultry farms require even more research, Nachman said.

He worked on a recent study in Pennsylvania who found that people living in areas with more and larger poultry farms had an increased likelihood of being diagnosed with community acquired pneumonia.

Local east coast poultry regulation advocates say farms are increasing rates of asthma and lung disease due to reduced air quality.

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Living near a poultry farm in Princess Anne, farmer Lisa Inzerillo said she had struggled with the impacts on air quality.

“I have never opened my window since the place got there,” she said. “I can’t go out when the air is so heavy that it falls on your clothes, I can’t hang out my clothes.”

However, the poultry industry often reports a 2006 study which showed no significant difference in particulate matter between measurements taken at the control sites and a broiler farm in Georgia.

Recent improvements to vegetative buffers and better litter quality in poultry houses to control ammonia have reduced impacts on air quality, Fisher said.

“We firmly believe that chicken farms are not harmful to air quality,” he said.

Project details to come

The plan will measure ammonia and particulates at both stations.

These stations will be chosen over the next few months based on “a variety of factors to ensure the data is useful and meaningful,” said Grumbles.

He said the data to be measured was chosen in response to concerns raised by voters.

Cost-shared funding for measures that reduce nutrient runoff from farms is essential if the Inland Bays watershed is to meet water quality objectives.  Chicken farmers are doing their part by installing measures like the heavy-duty pad shown with this chicken coop.

But focusing on just those two things could be a problem as there is still a lot to learn about the impact of poultry on health issues in neighboring communities, said Nachman, who testified in 2018 on behalf of Community Healthy. Air Act.

“It is difficult to know exactly which agent would be responsible,” he said. “The first step is to understand the levels of these contaminants in the communities.”

He would like measurements of volatile organic compounds and some pathogens to be included.

But it’s hard to say how viable this new project will be without further details of the plan, he said, adding that he was concerned it might not go through the same vigorous process of public input and peer review that the Community Health Air Act called for. .

Grumbles said it wouldn’t.

“We are going to make sure that our monitoring experts, our air quality regulators make the right choices and get the public’s opinion on the location and other aspects of the plan,” he said. . “Over the next two months, everything will fall into place.”

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