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Air quality standards stir debate

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

JOICE, Iowa -- It is time for Iowa to adopt air quality standards to regulate confined animal feeding operations, says Curt Evans, a Joice farmer.

Evans worked with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement to get more than 6,000 people to sign a petition asking the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission to adopt air quality standards last year. The petition led to Governor Tom Vilsack requesting a report from 27 Iowa State University and University of Iowa scientists that will be released this week.

More study needed

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Tim Bierman, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association from Larrabee, wants more study before air quality standards are established for CAFOs.

The study "indicates that hydrogen sulfide and ammonia are potential concerns to pork producers that live close to their own hog barns although the study was unable to identify specific diseases related to the facilities,'' Bierman said.

More research is needed on how far away pork producers need to live from their swine barns and how far away new houses need to be built from existing barns, Bierman said.

He cautioned that the Iowa pork industry has shrunk by more than 1 million hogs over the last 20 years and still includes more than 10,000 farms.

"We can only hope that the new university recommendations will not lead to further consolidation of the Iowa pork industry,'' he said. "Hog farmers make up the youngest segment in Iowa agriculture."

But Evans is concerned about health risks.

"The study shows that large-scale confinements are dangerous, and the scientists are making recommendations that the Environmental Protection Commission needs to enact,'' he said.

The livestock industry is important to Iowa, said Evans, who raises corn and soybeans with his son.

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"But the large corporate confinements don't appear to want to take responsibility for their actions when it comes to protecting the health and well being of their workers and neighbors,'' Evans said. "Large-scale confinements are springing up everywhere with no regard to state parks, churches, schools, lakes, rivers and people. It's time to take action to stop them from fouling all of what is right about Iowa.''

'Sound science'

Iowa legislators received an executive summary of the report, and its results came up at several legislative committee meetings.

"Everyone has said that they want to base decisions on sound science,'' said Rep. Mark Kuhn, ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and a Charles City farmer. "This report is the sound science. It is extremely important that legislators read, study and make recommendations based upon these results. The report clearly recommends that ambient air quality standards be developed for hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and odor.''

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Ralph Klemme said he is still reading the report.

"Some major concerns have come forth from the livestock industry about it,'' said Klemme, a LeMars farmer and Republican.

Kuhn and Klemme are part of a bipartisan group of 12 legislators that are meeting to develop legislation to regulate Iowa's livestock industry.

"We've come some distance,'' Klemme said. "We should have something come forward by Feb. 22. We also know that we can do a general piece of legislation and amend it later. We'll come to some agreement that most people can live with and the industry can live with.''

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Iowa needs the livestock industry, and Klemme said he doesn't want to enact legislation that jeopardizes it.

"It's a must to have it here and for it to grow in Iowa,'' Klemme said. "We want to do it responsibly, and I believe we are, but there are also a few bad actors.''

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