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Environmental panel will learn more about plan

DNR's Vonk will be ready for March meeting

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

DES MOINES -- The Environmental Protection Commission will learn more about a plan to set ambient air quality standards for animal feedlot operations at its March meeting.

DNR Director Jeff Vonk told the panel he will bring a plan to its March meeting to deal with recommendations heard last week on setting ambient air quality standards for concentrated animal feeding operations.

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Dr. James Merchant, Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa, and Richard Ross, a veterinary medicine professor at Iowa State University, presented the results of a study conducted by 27 scientists at the two schools.

The study was requested by Gov. Tom Vilsack in June 2001 to guide the DNR on the public health and environmental impacts of confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement petitioned the DNR last year to enact air quality standards for CAFOs.

The universities reached consensus on recommending standards for hydrogen sulfide and ammonia emitted from CAFOs. The scientists also recommended that odor be regulated, but they didn't reach consensus on standards.

Ross said ISU officials met Feb. 11 with livestock producer groups concerned about the impact air quality regulations would have on their operations.

"Additional research and review is warranted,'' Ross said. "Let's work together on a science basis and move forward with the goals for healthy workers, a healthy environment and a healthy animal agriculture industry for Iowa.''

Study defended

In response to those who questioned if the study provides enough science to justify regulations, Merchant said studies of effects of CAFOs on community residents, while limited, are peer-reviewed and published.

Researchers looked at the extensive studies on the hazards of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia in other industries.

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Most producers won't have a problem meeting the recommended standards, Merchant said.

In Minnesota, where hydrogen sulfide regulations are in place, just four producers have been found in violation.

"I find the report provides very specific recommendations,'' Vonk said. "We got consensus on these recommendations. Consensus means you don't make a recommendation unless everyone agrees.''

The rulemaking process will include a public input period.

The commission heard from Iowans who supported the report's recommendations as well as those who said more study is needed. Nearly 200 people attended the EPC meeting.

Don Dubois said he, his wife and daughter started suffering from allergies, migraines and asthma after a large hog confinement was built near their home in Boone County.

Study bashed

Larry Ackley, a Bedford farmer who has a 150-sow farrow-to-finish confinement operation as well as a cow/calf herd, said he supports air quality regulations.

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"As I read the Constitution we have the right to do just about anything we want as long as we don't tread on someone else's area whether it be air or water or infringe on their property rights," Ackley said. "We as farmers will have to be prepared to accept more regulations.''

Ron Litterer, a Greene farmer who spoke on behalf of nine commodity and farm organizations, said proposed air quality standards would hurt family farm operations. He raises 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans and finishes 4,700 hogs per year.

"The report is based on social science, not applied science and unfortunately, it will be used primarily to increase nuisance lawsuits and more uncertainty in the state's livestock industry,'' Litterer said. "In many ways the universities are trying to start a regulatory train down the tracks before all the facts are in. This is a disservice to Iowa's farmers. This report is a disappointment, and it raises more question than it answers.''

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