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Raising a stink over factory farms: Lawsuit filed over livestock operations

Legal action from environmental, animal groups demands reduction of air pollutants

(File PPhoto) Iowa veterinarian Craig Rowles stands in one of his pig barns among some of the estimated 150,000 hogs that he raises a year on farms like this in Carroll, Iowa November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Duff Wilson
(File PPhoto) Iowa veterinarian Craig Rowles stands in one of his pig barns among some of the estimated 150,000 hogs that he raises a year on farms like this in Carroll, Iowa November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Duff Wilson

Environmental and animal rights groups filed two lawsuits Wednesday in an effort to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollution from livestock confinement operations.

The Environmental Integrity Project and the Humane Society of the United States filed the lawsuits in federal court on behalf of rural residents and family farmers whose health and quality of life are affected by factory farm air pollutants.

“The EPA has acknowledged the harmful impacts of factory farm air pollution for over a decade, yet is still failing to act on the problem,” Tarah Heinzen, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, said during a telephone news conference.

The lawsuits ask for a response by the EPA to a pair of rule-making petitions filed in 2009 and 2011. Those petitions asked the EPA to use its authority under the federal Clean Air Act to control emissions of air pollution from factory farms.

Such pollution — consisting primarily of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, methane, and particulate matter — contributes to human health problems, including asthma and heart attacks, the plaintiffs said.

It also endangers animal health, intensifies the effects of climate change and causes regional haze and “dead zones” in waterways, they said.

The lawsuits ask the court to order the EPA to make a final decision on the 2011 and 2009 petitions within 90 days.

Speaking during Wednesday’s news conference, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member Rosie Partridge, whose rural Sac County home is surrounded by more than 30,000 hogs within four miles, said emissions have forced her and her husband to leave home for days at a time.

“The ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are so strong that my husband has trouble breathing,” she said.

About 8,500 of the nation’s estimated 20,000 factory farms are in Iowa, according to Adam Mason, state policy director for ICCI, one of the plaintiff organizations.

Mason said Wednesday’s lawsuits are similar to the recent suit filed by Des Moines Water Works over nitrate pollution in the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers.

“Everyday folks are demanding that government serve their needs rather than the needs of polluters,” Mason said.

In 2012, Iowa producers marketed about 49 million hogs, equivalent to almost one third of the pork produced in the United States, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Association spokesman Dave Struthers, who raises about 3,500 hogs each year in Story County, said he knows of no scientific evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims.

“We value the health and safety of our families, employees, and neighbors and would do nothing to jeopardize that,” said Struthers, who grew up working in one of the state’s first hog confinement operations built by his father in 1969.

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The legal basis for the lawsuits is that the EPA’s delays of nearly six and four years in responding to the petitions is unreasonable under federal law. The Humane Society petition asks EPA to list factory farms as a category of sources of pollution under the Clean Air Act and set performance standards for them.

The Environmental Integrity Project’s petition asks EPA to set health-based standards for ammonia

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