The "Smell" from a 7,800 Cow Dairy

The largest dairy “farm” in New York State is in my county, not too many miles from my home. The dairy reportedly has 7,800 cows. Do you know how much cow manure 7,800 cows produce in a year? I’ll tell you: 157,156 TONS.

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


Andy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy said...

I'm gonna preface this by saying I'm gonna be buying your plucker builder book and some parts... :)

OK - that said - given where the world has grown to - right now - what's the alternative? I have ideas as to the long term hopes for the planet... but you say "people will justify this kind of agriculture because it produces affordable milk"... ABSOLUTELY - and especially in a time where there are over 30 some countries around the world where there are riots in the streets because people can't afford their basic food-stuffs - what's the solution?
I appreciate the coverage of the topic - and sure - getting more peoples attention on the problem is a good thing - I guess what I'm asking is - what are your ideas to solve the problem?
I don't think you are advocating ceasing all CAFO production tomorrow... but maybe you are... I'm just looking for solutions - not reiterations of the problems - the general media covers that so well :)
Visit us at Bluebird Meadow Farms

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. Makes my blood boil when I hear of so many people suffering at the hands of big ag or any big company for that matter. No amount of cheap goods can justify deliberately endangering the health and well being of God's creation. Jesus would NOT approve. Citizens ought to take 12 truck loads of manure and dump them on the office doorsteps of their public "servants". No, can't do that. Just drive (slowly) 12 truckloads full of manure around the Albany statehouse several times a day and see how they like it.
Sorry, don't know where that came from.
As for solutions,when did a free people become so enslaved that they don't know they have a choice? There are solutions. I know what the real problem is. We don't really want to do anything that might interfere with our "lifestyle"... Living simply, doing without, building deliberate, sustainable, agrarian communities requires too much work on our individual parts, moving away from the cities of destruction would mean giving up some creature comforts. Recall that Israel didn't appreciate their new freedom in the wilderness. It meant doing for themselves and depending on each other instead of the slave masters. Oh how they lusted after Egypt.
I'm going to sign up to purchase milk from local farmers. I buy grocery store organic now, but I hear that some organic dairies are as bad as the conventional producers in terms of too many cows and not enough pasture. Yes, it costs more, but I gave up cable ($65 a month), the telephone ($50 a month), pantyhose (about $5 a month), parking ($36 a month). And soon I'll be making my own bread. Yes, times are bad, but look at it as an opportunity to return to right thinking and right living.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the information about CAFO's and the health hazards associated with the hydrogen sulfide emissions. Unfortunately there are a lot more chemical compounds involved int he CAFO farming process, that can cause serious and life threatening health problems for people that live in the vicinity of these large farms. I will cite water quality as a huge issue. Nitrate contamination can cause methheoglobinemia ( a condition where oxygen is unable to bind with hemeglobin, producing cellular suffocation) in infants and also has been linked with spontaneous abortions in pregnant women.(LaGrange, Indiana Health Dept. Study) I know of a young woman that had three miscarriages while living on the back side of a CAFO. When she stopped drinking the water from their well, she was able to concieve and bring forth a healthy child. I am convinced the nitrate contamination in their well water caused her miscarriages. Unfortunately , when these issues were addressed with the Cayuga County Health Department, the parties involved were told they were eating too much bacon. Even though the level of nitrates in the well was so high when tested that the sample had to be diluted in order to get a reading. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Keep fighting for the truth!
God Bless you, Brother!
Your Friends in Genoa

Ernest said...

I'm a longtime reader, but I haven't often felt the need to comment. Often I say "amen, brother" and go on my way.

However, This particular article got to me. As a farmer who is investing years in my own place, I do worry about what my neighbors are doing. What would I do if one of my neighbors were killing me?

I have no ready answer, or at least not one that exhibits the Christian values I aspire to.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I live in a rural community in CNY and have dealt with the smell of our local CAFO for over 8 years now. After being enlightened by your article, I feel even more compelled to try to do something about the health risks posed by this Agricultural Toxic Waste Facility. We recently came home from work to the very familiar and unwelcome scent of liquid manure, and we were literally prisoners in our own home for the rest of the night. We could not enjoy the beautiful weather outside, and our lawn went unmowed until the smell subsided. I called our town supervisor and she only commented that other people had complained also and that three different farms in the area were spreading on the same day! She only said that it would be "brought up at the next town meeting" and that "the DEC wouldn't do anything about it". This is a serious problem that can be solved if the government would stop pandering to Big Ag. If this were a large textile factory spewing noxious fumes from tall smoke-stacks, and they were dumping toxic waste on the fields, you can bet that not only will they NOT get a government handout, they would all be arrested, shutdown, and it would be on the lips of every major news anchor at six o'clock! This crime has gone on long enough, and it's time that we stand up and actually do something about it! My idea is simple; start with loooking for ways to make fuel from the animal waste. I'm pretty sure that methane burns efficiently, and this would ensure that the waste will be used in better ways than "fertilizer". (In my opinion, "fertilizer" is a very loose term when it comes to liquified manure laded with bacteria and other harmful elements.) Desperation is the Mother of Invention, or so they say, and I'm sure that with more attention to the problem, and with more advocates against Big Ag, we can find a viable solution that will give us our lives back! Thanks for listening.

Anonymous said...

We have a few dairy farms down the road and ive watched as housing developments went up,i couldnt understand why anyone would buy a house near them,then complain about the smell?I was in a truckstop in kansas and a driver told me how there was five slaughter houses within so many miles,he actually knew how many went through each one on an average,it was a while back but i think he said over twenty thousand a day!

Anonymous said...

Read your blog on this issue and wondered if the EPA ever got involved? Is this still a problem today? I live on Kaua'i, Hawaii, and am working with a group of people, trying desperately to keep the disaster you've described from coming to a beautiful coastal community on our small rural island. A 2,000 cow dairy is proposed to go in less than 1 mile from the coast. 472 total grazing acres are planned and the entire herd is to be grazed on 24-27 acres per day within 750 ft. of 2 county wells that provide most of the drinking water for the surrounding communities. We are worried about pollution of our drinking water, the freshwater streams that run through the proposed farm site, the ocean, the odor, flies, and economic impact to the nearby resort community and hundreds of homes within two miles of the dairy. Looking for any further information on how we can persuade government officials to relocate this operation before the irreparable harm occurs. Feel free to email me at .

Anonymous said...

My husband & I bought a house in a farming community & I noticed almost immediately after moving in , my health went down hill & I developed several health problems ranging from chronic broncitis to sinusitis & eczema which covered my whole scalp & various parts of my body to CVS & skin cancer! Then I noticed that my neighbors on both sides of me also became ill , one of which has an unexplained brain disease. My niece who also lives on the same road as the dairy farm developed a strange ongoing & unexplained infection ^ just recently my husband whom has always been an extremely healthy man has been very ill with aches & pains ,sinusitis, inflamed mucous membranes of the nose and throat, headaches, & stomach problems! We are now getting our house , which was to be our retirement dream home , ready for sale!!