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Public health should remain top priority 

Posted

As your readers no doubt know, Montgomery County has 15 swine Confined Animal Feeding Operations. In response to some serious public health and environmental concerns from Montgomery County citizens, the Montgomery County Commissioners have proposed a draft ordinance to deal with the siting of CAFOs in Montgomery County. The proposed ordinance has been assigned to the planning commission, which held its first meeting July 24, and many citizens testified — some in support, some in opposition. Because of the concerns for public health and complicated science in operating a CAFO safely, the planning commission postponed any vote on the proposed ordinance and decided to create an advisory committee of 13 individuals representing various interests or concerns in the community. The composition of the advisory committee was reported in an earlier addition of the Journal Review, and they have had their first meeting Aug. 24 at the government center. The committee is chaired by Ashley Adair (765-364-6363; holmes9@purdue.edu), who is the executive director of the Purdue Extension. It has been her decision not to allow any comment from the public but rather to allow the public only to observe, in an open meeting, the discussions and deliberations of the advisory committee. One of the advisory committee members, a CAFO operator, vehemently refused to allow the committee to visit his CAFO and stated, “that a CAFO is a dangerous toxic animal waste operation.” It is estimated that each hog produces 2 tons of animal feces and bodily fluids per year. If a CAFO produced 6,000 finished hogs every six months, it could produce 12,000 tons of waste per year.

Indeed, that is exactly the case as this county knows from the unfortunate history of Pulman Farms that was closed down by IDEM because of a number of spills from their collection pond. (IDEM’s CAFO Section Chief Joe Williams, jwilliams@idem.in.gov)

A swine CAFO may produce 6,000 or more finished hogs every six months. The animals’ entire lives are under a roof and the animal waste is collected in a pit under a grated floor. After those hogs are delivered to a nearby processing plant, the operator starts all over again. Because of the strong odor from the ammonia and animal waste, it is generally the case that the operator does not live on the premises unless it is a very large farm. The proposed ordinance does not ensure, in its current form, any public health safety requirements. In its current form, the ordinance does not require a CAFO operator to do anything on odor abatement nor is the operator required to do anything about treatment of animal waste. There are currently many animal waste treatment processes which neutralize the waste and make it as safe to apply on a farm field as a bag of potting soil. The treatment plans include anaerobic digestors and separation of solid waste from the liquid ammonia. These additional treatment processes costs money and it is for that reason that the farmer declines to add those processes to his/her CAFO operation. 

Instead, Montgomery County is relying upon a requirement that would place the CAFO a minimum distance from residences, schools and churches. Those distances may or may not be adequate depending upon whether those sites of human habitation are downwind.

Two members of the advisory committee are realtors and are expected to offer their opinions as to the effect on residential property values if those properties were close to an operating CAFO.

The public was told at the last meeting of the subcommittee that there may be as many as three other potential applicants wishing to build and operate a CAFO in the county. This would place an enormous public health challenge on those responsible for approving the site location of any CAFO applicant. If your readers would prefer to do their own research, I would suggest: https://www.hecweb.org/issues/environmental-health-justice/factory-farm-waste/

and https://waterkeeper.org/campaign/pure-farms-pure-waters/

Everyone on the planning commission and everyone on the advisory committee is pro-agriculture which is understandable. However, pro-agriculture does not mean that the county commissioners, the planning commission or the advisory committee should excuse an applicant from employing the best practices in odor abatement and animal waste treatment. I hope the subcommittee will continue its work and make a recommendation later in the year that will impose reasonable conditions on an applicant and ensure that public health and environmental concerns are being addressed and that the public health will not be adversely affected as it was with the Pulman disaster.

Michael K. Sutherlin

Crawfordsville

 

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