Hog confinements and human health

Photo by Larry Stone taken outside an Iowa hog confinement, published with permission.

Iowans continue to advocate for tighter regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which house more than 23 million hogs in the state. The animals produce manure equivalent to the waste from more than 83 million people. This publication outlines the problem and potential solutions: Hog Confinements and Human Health: the intersection of science, morals, and law.

Lead author Bob Watson, of Decorah, is an environmental activist who makes his living in the wastewater industry. He deals with Iowa and surrounding states on wastewater issues as owner of Watson Brothers. 

Larry Stone, of Elkader, has continued writing about and speaking on environmental issues after leaving a 25-year career as outdoor writer/photographer with The Des Moines Register.

Richard “Dick” Janson, Ed.D., of Decorah, is a retired public school administrator and teacher with undergraduate training in engineering, science, history, political science, and English. He’s also a tireless researcher and activist for social justice and environmental issues.

Introduction: A handbook for regulating hog confinements

This handbook is a request, and a how to, for help in a grassroots campaign to regulate hog confinements in Iowa. Chapter 3 will give you legislative language that, if adopted, will regulate the discharge of manure pollution from the air avenue of hog confinements. State law now says all manure must be retained in the hog confinement between disposal events. But, the courts have said that is only for the water pollution avenue of confinements. This campaign is about including the other pollution avenue, the air avenue, in that law.

It is our hope that you will use this language to help in a grassroots campaign to convince sitting legislators to adopt and introduce this air avenue language, and/or, to elect legislators who would be in favor of this language. This language, if adopted, will help protect the health of Iowans who live, work, and study in proximity to hog confinements.

Chapter 1 is our powerpoint presentation: “Unintended Health and Environmental Consequences of CAFO Agriculture.” Chapter 2 contains the documents of our recent lawsuit against the Iowa DNR [Department of Natural Resources].

Between the powerpoint and the DNR lawsuit documents, you can get a pretty good understanding of what hog confinements are, why they produce the human health problems they do, what those health problems are, and why we have had such a hard time getting anything done to protect humans from hog confinement pollutants and toxins.

The powerpoint explains hog confinement technology, what that technology is, how that technology affects the hog’s waste as it breaks down in an anaerobic (sewer) environment, and explains the human health harming constituent parts that waste produces as it breaks down in this sewer environment. Those human health harming constituent parts of manure are vented or blown out into the surrounding neighborhood and larger environment 24/7/365.

When reading the DNR lawsuit documents, start by reading the media guide pdf. The media guide document has notes in the margin that will help you understand what we are doing and why we put together the lawsuit the way we did. The last page of the media guide is the template we had to follow in order to make our request of the DNR for a declaratory order. That template will explain what we are about in the document when it says “this addresses template number such and such.”

We changed the lawsuit, but not in any real way. We simply left out the original step of trying to get the DNR to agree with us and issue a declaratory order using our wording to protect the public’s health. Instead, we skipped that step and asked the DNR in our lawsuit to “retain” all excreta/waste/manure, and the constituent parts of that manure, that the code/law says it is supposed to do. As it is written today, the code/law regulations leave out the pollution coming out of the air avenue of hog confinements. It only regulates the water pollution avenue. The existing code/law language led to the dismissal of our DNR lawsuit, and, led to this grassroots campaign to get language in the regulations which includes the air avenue and would regulate the human health harming pollution coming out of the air avenue

The lawsuit documents, along with the Jillian Fry 2014 Johns Hopkins study used in the main lawsuit document, will also help you understand why opponents of hog confinements have had such a hard time making any headway in protecting the public’s health. It shows that the regulatory scheme leaves out humans, hence there are no laws pertaining to the effects hog confinement waste has on people.

This legislative language effort is a particular effort using hog confinements to fight against the larger general problem of pollution from this industrial model of agriculture. It is what we can do today to lessen the inherent pollution problems coming from the use of this industrial model of agriculture that is dominant in the US today.

The epilogue in this booklet is a “transition to a clean agriculture” document. This document shows where we can, and should, go in the future in terms of having a clean and healthy agriculture in Iowa. The legislative language grassroots campaign is a particular effort. The transition document is a general effort toward a future clean and healthy agriculture.

This transition to a clean agriculture document is also being proposed as a symposium for the Iowa Academy of Science 2020 Annual Conference. Because all the agricultural crops and cropping systems discussed in the transition document exist today, the symposium will stipulate that the transition to a clean agriculture has already been completed. The presenters will then be asked to tell how that transition was accomplished from their research perspective, and/or, what Iowa is like now that we have transitioned to a clean and soil rejuvenating agriculture. It is important to let people know that this future can exist today, show them what it can be like, and let them know that we do not need to continue with this inherently polluting industrial model of agriculture to feed ourselves.

The printed booklet will have links to the full version e-book at the appropriate places. All of the documents in the book, our lawsuit documents, and the 867 peer-reviewed journal studies we cite to justify our positions will be in the full e-version book.

We hope you find this book/e-book informative. We also hope that you will use this information to help with this grassroots campaign to regulate Iowa hog confinements. If you invite us to visit your group, we will discuss how best to use this information locally, and answer any questions you may have about any of the information we have given you.

Since this book is, and contains, the ask of your help with this grassroots effort, we will not be charging for the printed version. We will ask for a freewill donation if you want to help with the printing costs. The e-version is free and printable from the website. Go to www.civandinc.com and click on the book title, Hog Confinements and Human Health.

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