Sunday, May 11, 2003

Hog Hell

Check out this article in the New York Times today about the horrific health and environmental problems being created by the waste from huge industrial hog farms. The source may be a relatively new phenominon -- industrial hog farms -- but we've seen the health effects, the industrial denials, the regulatory and enforcement retreats too many times before.

PAULDING, Ohio, May 8 — Robert Thornell says that five years ago an invisible swirling poison invaded his family farm and the house he had built with his hands. It robbed him of his memory, his balance and his ability to work. It left him with mood swings, a stutter and fistfuls of pills. He went from doctor to doctor, unable to understand what was happening to him.

The 14th doctor finally said he knew the source of the maladies: cesspools the size of football fields belonging to the industrial hog farm a half-mile from the Thornell home.


A growing number of scientists and public health officials around the country say they have traced a variety of health problems faced by neighbors of huge industrial farms to vast amounts of concentrated animal waste, which emit toxic gases while collecting in open-air cesspools or evaporating through sprays. The gases, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, are poisonous.
And where have we heard this before?
The agricultural industry, backed by some government officials, contends that these health effects are at best poorly documented. They say that scientific studies have relied too much on the testimony of the people with medical problems, and that there is no way to prove that those problems are directly attributable to the farms.
And, true to form....
Bush administration officials are negotiating with lobbyists for the large farms to establish voluntary monitoring of air pollution, which will give farm operators amnesty for any Clean Air Act violations while generating data that will enable regulators to track the type and source of pollutants more accurately.


Former Environmental Protection Agency prosecutors said they started looking at air pollution from factory farms in 1998, but political appointees issued a directive in early 2002 that effectively stymied new cases.... "You had decisions about enforcement that were being made on the political level without any input from the enforcement," said Michele Merkel, a prosecutor who resigned from the agency in protest.

Eric Schaeffer, the former director of civil enforcement at the environmental agency, said Agriculture Department officials tried to exert influence to protect the industrial farms. "They essentially wanted veto power," he said.
And if this is happening to the neighbors a half mile away, what's happening to the workers in these facilities?