Size Matters

Herd About It?

By Ana Grarian

Two Amish men in Cambria County (PA) say they won’t appeal fines for operating two unpermitted outhouses at a school (Tribune Review 4/26/08)

News report from PA about an outhouse for a school with 18 students.

A federal judge has ruled that plaintiffs in an unsuccessful lawsuit against a large southern Cayuga County (NY) dairy farm must pay nearly $24,000 in attorney fees incurred by the farm (Auburn Citizen 4/17/09)

News report from NY about a dairy with 6000 milk cows

How much sewage does a 6000 cow dairy produce?According to the EPA’s 2002 Progress Report for the Pacific Southwest Region, each cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure per day. A 1,000-cow dairy will produce the same amount of waste as a city of 20,000 people, with no sewage treatment.

So a 6000 cow dairy would produce about the same waste as a city of 120, 000 people, with no sewage treatment. That’s about the size of Syracuse NY. Can you imagine if all the sewage from a city of that size was simply dumped into an unlined open air lagoon (pond) and then thickly spread on top of the ground around your town? Do you suppose that the town where this dairy is located, with a population of 1800, could get away with handling its human waste that way?

Of all environmental impacts created by mega-dairies, air pollution generally imposes the most immediate problem for the community. Dairy workers and those living near dairies frequently report adverse health effects from exposure to animal waste. People who experience prolonged exposure to dairy-related pollutants are vulnerable to respiratory illness, lung inflammation, and asthma, according to the EPA. The agency also states that odorous and potentially toxic gases, such as sulfur dioxide, produced by the decomposition of animal wastes, may also cause nausea, headaches, and throat and eye irritation. Recently, three men at two different dairies in California died when they were overcome by toxic fumes from liquefied manure, fell into manure holding tanks, and drowned.

One big difference in the waste from a CAFO dairy and that from a traditional dairy is the amount of water in it. A traditional dairy uses bedding which absorbs the liquid portion of the waste. The manure spread then is more solid, less likely to run off and easier to incorporate into the soil. The larger systems use less bedding (hard to pump) and more water, sometimes even using flush systems to wash the manure out of the barn. This manure is more likely to run off or to seep through the soil producing groundwater contamination.

There is a difference in odor also. A liquid system is much more offensive because the chemicals are more volatile. Think about a cat box without litter in it to absorb the urine. The large systems of course have a larger amount of air pollution in one place. Think about the difference between washing your windows with an ammonia solution, or holding your nose directly over the open bottle.

People and watersheds are being hurt. Those who live next door are being hurt on an immediate daily basis. The rest of us get the affects as the sh%* runs down hill.