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Purdue's Heber Leads National Confinement Barn Study

Research to set base line for odors, particulate matter.

The coordinator of the largest study ever conducted in the U.S. to measure levels of gases and air-borne pollutants emitted from livestock facilities is Al Heber, of Purdue University's Ag and Biological Engineering Department. This 2.5 year, $14.6 million study is designed to determine base levels of gas emissions and particulates from various types of confined animal feeding facilities, including poultry, dairy and swine buildings.

Speaking at the Livestock Summit called by Andy Miller, director of the Indiana Department of Agriculture, in Scottsburg just a few days ago, Heber explained how the study came about. The Environmental Protection Agency found itself trying to suit farmers for odor and particulate emissions, without having any baseline for what these levels are in normal, well-run operations. It quickly became apparent that they couldn't prove an operation was emitting higher than normal levels due to mismanagement or poor facility design if they didn't know what normal levels of these various substances were in the first place.

While odor and dust are the two factors mentioned most when hog or dairy facilities are debated in communities, he study will actually measure natural levels of a variety of emissions, including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and particulate matter (dust). Other substances associated with these animal production facilities will be measured.

By mid-summer, the project will be underway at about 20 sites in 8 states, Heber notes. Five of the sites are in Indiana. The tests in Indiana should be particularly enlightening, he says, since they will be testing in pork, poultry and dairy facilities. Cooperators chose to participate voluntarily in the study, he adds.

The long-range plan calls for EPA to be able to make more informed judgments after having scientific data available to it. Before there was just no baseline data to know what could be achieved even in good operations, experts note.

Currently, odor is not regulated. Even if the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which is charged to oversee CAFO regulations in Indiana, gets calls about odor, it lacks enforcement power in that area. IDEM's authority, coming down to it from EPA, is based upon protecting the waters of the state, and does not address odor control at this point.

Also speaking at the summit, Miller was quick to point out that confined feeding operations are the only businesses that must confirm with EPA rules allowed zero tolerance for discharge of waste into water sources. Even sewage treatment plants are allowed leeway during rain events. Put differently, thousands of gallons of untreated, raw sewage can enter streams and rivers without violation during rain events. The City of Indianapolis is one of the chief contributors to this situation. The city ahs taken steps to begin modernizing its sewage handling methods and reduce or eliminate this concern, but it will be costly and likely spread over the next several decades before the problem is resolved. Meanwhile, CAFO operators must comply with the zero discharge provisions assigned to them.

TAGS: Regulatory
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