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Great Lakes Article:

Air-quality study may add to farm debate
Scientific data specific to Ohio being gathered
By Ben Sutherly
Dayton Daily News
08/04/03


COLUMBUS | An air-quality study under way at three large livestock and poultry farms in northwest Ohio could contribute something that's been missing from the environmental debate about the state's consolidating animal production industry: scientific data specific to Ohio.

Ohio State University researchers collected air samples from the three farms in March and in June; a third and final round of sampling is scheduled this month. Researchers plan to assemble a report this fall.

"Our goal is to try to have an understanding of air-quality parameters at typical Ohio farms," said Lingying Zhao, an Ohio State University professor and the study's principal researcher. Those parameters will give researchers a better understanding of the health risks associated with breathing air on large farms.

The three farms include a 650-cow dairy; a 1,000-head hog farm; and an egg farm with about 90,000 chickens, said Glen Arnold, an Ohio State professor and agricultural agent with the Ohio State University Extension in Putnam County.

Arnold put researchers in touch with livestock producers willing to have air on their farms tested. He declined to identify the three farms, whose owners agreed to participate in the study on the condition that they remain anonymous.

The farms are typical of large livestock and poultry farms built in recent decades across the state, especially in Darke and Mercer counties. The two counties are home to roughly half of the state's so-called "megafarms" - farms that confine more than 1,000 cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 swine, 10,000 sheep, 125,000 meat chickens, 82,000 egg-laying hens and 55,000 turkeys.

The amount of research available about air emissions in and near housing for livestock and poultry and manure storage areas remains limited, despite growing concern about the issue in recent years. In a nationwide survey last fall, the Dayton Daily News found half of the 46 states reporting megafarms held them to air-quality standards. Four states - Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska and South Carolina - enforced limits on gas emissions from the big farms.

Mike Brugger, an Ohio State professor said he and other researchers are measuring hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and carbon dioxide levels both inside and outside buildings at the three farms, as well as dust and weather conditions. The group also is collecting air samples to send to Purdue University's odor laboratory for testing.

The researchers are collecting data at 14 points at each farm using two kinds of equipment to ensure accurate readings. They are testing air upwind and downwind of animal housing, as well as inside the buildings and downwind of any manure stored outside.

Researchers have not drawn conclusions about data they've collected so far, Brugger said, but he noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health have recommended exposure levels for the gases being studied at the three farms.

So far, "We've seen nothing that comes close to those figures," Brugger said.

The Great Lakes Center for Agricultural Safety in Columbus and the university are funding the study. Funding has been secured for a second study at three different farms next year, but Brugger said limited conclusions can be drawn even after that study is completed.

"With just two sets of data points for two different dairy farms or two different swine farms or two different poultry farms each season, you truly can't define what's the worst case (and) what's the best case," Brugger said. " . . . We would like to do more farms of each species so we can start getting a sense of variability between farms."

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