If you live near a feedlot and the wind is blowing the right way, you know what the topic of local conversation will be. Airborne emissions from commercial livestock and poultry facilities (including concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs) can adversely affect the physical and mental health of employees and area residents.
In an effort to spur facility owners and operators to voluntarily reduce emissions, a consortium of organizations has developed a tool that allows the owner/operator to figure out how changing on-site practices can reduce emissions of ammonia, methane, volatile organic compounds, hydrogen sulfide, fine particulates, and odors. Target animals include swine, dairy cattle, beef cattle, turkeys, broiler chickens, and laying hens.
It may also be useful for journalists.
The tool is also designed to help owners/operators develop solutions that minimize unexpected side-effects (such as increasing one type of pollutant while reducing another). The results provide relative information for any given facility, and don’t provide perspective on regulatory compliance.
The National Air Quality Site Assessment Tool was developed by the US Dept. of Agriculture, 12 universities, 8 industry organizations, and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
The Web site is designed for confidential use by owners/operators, and requires intricate knowledge of an operation related to factors such as animal feed and housing, manure management, handling of dead animals, use of on-site and nearby roads, and relations with neighbors.
If an owner/operator is willing to walk a journalist through all these details, and demonstrate what he or she is doing, or planning to do, to minimize emissions, that’s one way a journalist can cover this topic and better inform surrounding residents and local officials.
If an owner/operator declines to disclose these details, that's a story too. A journalist can contact one or more of the participating universities or industry organizations (listed under “Resources” on the Web site, then “State Resources”) to get their general insights on what on-site practices are likely to be best for the type and location of operation the journalist is investigating. The journalist’s questions for that person can be based on the Web site’s questionnaire for the owner/operator that is readily accessible to anyone. The answers from the university or industry source(s) can lead to a series of detailed questions the journalist can ask the facility owner/operator.
Once you have a feel for the types of emissions possibly coming from the facility you’re investigating, you can cite pertinent research on physical and mental health effects on employees and area residents. The Web site includes a brief discussion of why each type of pollutant is of concern. In addition, there is considerable information from various sources listed under the “Resources” icon, in the “Additional Resources” category.
If you want to supplement that information, there are many studies providing additional detail. Many will show up via a search of sites such as:
Both EPA and the states have some role in overseeing or regulating these facilities. For EPA information, see:
- EPA, Animal Feeding Operations (includes links for both air and water issues).
Reducing air pollutants from these facilities remains in large part a voluntary effort, though enforcement can occur in some situations.
- EPA, Civil Enforcement, Animal Feeding Operations Air Agreements.
For states, check with either the agriculture or environment department:
Among environmental groups concerned about this issue are:
- Environmental Integrity Project, Factory Farms.
- Food and Water Watch.
- The Humane Society of the United States.
- Sierra Club.
Along with individual commercial livestock and poultry owners and operators you can identify, industry organizations include:
- National Cattlemen's Beef Association: Ammonia Regulation and Media Center.
- National Pork Producers Council.
- National Chicken Council.
- U.S. Poultry & Egg Association.
- National Turkey Federation.
For more perspective on issues surrounding these facilities, including secrecy about CAFO ownership and the dearth of information about air pollution, see the following WatchDog items: