When I worked on a dairy farm thirty years ago the farmer had around 70 cows. Once a day, the farmer and his sons (and I) cleaned the manure out of the barn. I thought that was a lot of manure. It went into a manure spreader and was spread on one of the farmer’s fields, every day. What does a so-called farm with 7,800 cows do with all that waste? It is liquefied and pumped into open-air lagoons until it is spread onto the fields at some later date.
A recent article in the Syracuse New Times newspaper has this to say about manure lagoons from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which is what any factory-scale dairy farm is:
You can’t see manure lagoons from the roadsides, but you can smell them, and the dangers of their fumes have been documented. A 2002 study by the University of Iowa and Iowa State University examined the impact of aerial ammonia and hydrogen sulfide on residents living near industrial hog farms after former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack requested information on their public health impact. The researchers noted that aerial ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gas—both routine CAFO emissions—are poisonous in high concentrations, causing sinusitis, asthma, chronic bronchitis, inflamed mucous membranes of the nose and throat, headaches, muscle aches and pains in those who live or work nearby.
The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents local, state and federal agencies, cites manure-pit emissions containing hydrogen sulfide and ammonia for the deaths of at least two dozen people working or living near the operations in the Midwest over the past 30 years. “The release of toxic substances from manure in amounts dangerous to human health is not a theoretical exercise—people have been killed,” said the NACAA’s Catharine Fitzsimmons, in testimony before the U.S. Senate on Sept. 6, 2007.
A June 2006 fact sheet put out by PRO-DAIRY on health and safety issues describes hydrogen sulfide as “a poisonous, acidic gas that can kill in a matter of seconds,” “accumulates in low, confined spaces” and dissolves “rapidly in eye moisture and in the respiratory tract.” Yet the DEC does not closely monitor toxic emissions from livestock farms.
DEC spokeswoman Lori O’Connell says the fumes are regarded “as either ‘trivial activities’ or as ‘fugitive emissions’ in the case of outdoor manure piles and waste lagoons. Both of these designations have the effect of relieving farms in New York from needing an air permit or minor source registration.”
If you’ve never lived near a CAFO you might think all that stuff about adverse health effects from “just a farm smell” is a bit overdone. But if you lived near a 7,800 cow dairy, and the toxic emissions from such a concentration of animal waste was making you and your family sick, you’d think differently.
That is exactly what has happened to the 7,800 cow factory farm in my county. Read this excerpt from the same article:
If you ask Fred Coon, Strecker’s 82-year-old father, why he’s missing his lower eyelids, he will tell you about the time he “got my eyes poisoned.” “It was a terrible process,” Coon says. “I was raking leaves by the barn, and my eyes started stinging. I came inside and looked in the mirror, and there were a million little tiny blisters over here, and here,” he says, pointing to the magenta tissue his lower eyelids used to cover. The blisters burst and became infected, prompting doctors to amputate the thin flaps of skin containing them.
Neighbor Connie Mather, a perky former schoolteacher from Philadelphia who owns a property around the corner, also had a run-in with the blisters. In her case, they converged on the inside of her throat and nasal passages. But Mather had another cause for alarm. In 2004, a medical expert diagnosed her teenage son, Samuel, with irreversible brain damage caused by exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas.
Here’s what the article says about Fred Coon’s property and the neighborhood since the 7,800 cow Willet Dairy has taken “dominion” in the town:
[His] land has been in the family since the 1800s. Coon still sleeps in the house he built in the 1940s. His late wife, and Strecker’s mother, Pearl Coon, spent her last days here. In the good old days, the air here smelled like lilac trees, flowers grew in the garden and marathon barbecues brought the town together, Coon remembers. They even had neighbors. But that was before Willet expanded. Now they’re surrounded by Willet on three sides.
“I’m just angry they took our lives away,” Strecker says. “I can’t even get a friggin’ clean glass of water.”
Strecker and Mather tried complaining about Willet to the state DEC, Office of the New York State Attorney General, New York State Soil and Water Committee, Cayuga County Health & Human Services Department, former New York Governors Eliot Spitzer and George Pataki, the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, federal and local legislators, the New York State Police, the Cayuga County Sheriff’s Department, and the Genoa town supervisor. To no avail.
“They all say they’ll ‘look into it,’” Strecker says. “Nobody cares.”
This, my friends, is but one example of Frankenstein Agriculture.
Industrial agriculture like this dairy (and so many others) destroys the environment and rural communities. The earth was not created to handle animal concentrations of such magnitude. When the “smell” from such an operation is bad enough to harm the health of people living in the neighborhood, something is seriously wrong.
Yet, people will justify this kind of agriculture because it produces affordable milk. If they lived next to a CAFO, they would think differently. Oh, and by the way, this particular farm received a million dollars in USDA subsidies over a ten year period. Subsidies (I feel compelled to remind you) are our tax dollars which were given to this farm.
You can read the whole newspaper article here: Sour Milk: Big-box dairy farms bring manure & misery to some Central New York communities