Cows and Waste

The Toxic Truth Behind Oregon’s Factory Farm Stench

Reprint of op-ed in the Oregonian

In rural communities across America, farmed animals now produce a staggering 1.4 trillion pounds of largely untreated waste every year, an ever-escalating portion of which is produced by industrial factory farming operations.

Just the 70,000 cows at Oregon’s Threemile Canyon Dairy in Morrow County — one of the nation’s largest dairy operations — produce three times the amount of waste generated by the state’s entire human population.

There’s no question that with so many animals producing so much waste, large-scale industrial dairy operations can become significant sources of air pollution, including ammonia, particulate matter and the greenhouse gas methane — a major driver of climate change.

Yet, unlike Minnesota, California and other states, Oregon fails to adequately address the many dangerous air pollutants emitted every day by large factory farms.

In an attempt to close that troubling loophole, the Oregon Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources hosted a hearing last week on Senate Bill 197, which would establish a common sense approach to overseeing and limiting dangerous air pollution from large-scale industrial dairies.

But in a show of political theater and self-interest, some of the same factory farm interests who approved of the Oregon Dairy Air Quality Task Force’s recommendations in 2008 for addressing air emissions from large dairy operations testified at Thursday’s hearing that the oversight was somehow no longer necessary.

The facts suggest otherwise.

Researchers have long catalogued the many health issues reported by people living near and working on factory farms, including headaches, nausea, diarrhea, respiratory irritation and congestion, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

And factory farm emissions like particulate matter, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are known to contribute to a number of serious health problems, including acute and chronic respiratory diseases among workers and at-risk populations like children and the elderly.

Consideration of SB 197 comes as Oregon officials are considering approval of a 30,000-cow mega-dairy operation near the Threemile Canyon dairy. If approved, the new “Lost Valley Ranch” operation will generate as much waste as a small city that will be stored largely in open-air lagoons then disposed of on fields.

Without adequate oversight, there can be no question that every time the state approves a new factory farm it will be opening the door to dangerous health risks — not only for workers but for all those families unfortunate enough to have no choice but to breathe the air around those facilities.

It’s telling that the same factory farm promoters assuring us their facilities aren’t hurting Oregonians are unwilling to support steps already endorsed by the Oregon Dairy Air Quality Task Force specifically designed to ensure the veracity of those claims.

The “just trust us” argument doesn’t pass even the most basic logic test.

The solution is simple: If the state is willing to approve these facilities, it must be willing to monitor their emissions to protect the health of Oregonians and their environment.

Dr. Nathan Donley is a senior scientist in the Portland office of the Center for Biological Diversity.


Originally published at www.oregonlive.com.