We all want to live in neighborhoods that are safe. But many communities on the Lower Eastern Shore are seeing growing threats to their clean and healthy neighborhoods.
The poultry industry is a staple on the Lower Shore. As farming practices have become more industrialized, chickens are increasingly being raised in large-scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, known as “CAFOs.” These large factory farms enable farmers to keep large numbers of chickens contained in confined spaces.
There are consequences to this setup, though. Large factory farms can pose threats to the environment and to public health. These operations emit air pollutants, including ammonia, which have been associated with a range of negative health effects, including upper respiratory illnesses such as asthma and even lung cancer.
Ammonia emissions are also major contributors to persistent algae blooms and dead zones in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. According to the EPA, a third of nitrogen loads deposited in the Bay come from air emissions – nearly half of which is ammonia – and that number is estimated to grow.
Atmospheric ammonia does not travel far in the air, so deposition tends to be concentrated in areas where the pollution occurs. That means that communities on the Eastern Shore, where the majority of these chicken farms reside, disproportionately bear the burden of the air and water pollution that occurs from factory farms. In fact, the Lower Shore has some of the highest rates of asthma hospitalizations and lung cancer in the state.
The Maryland Department of the Environment does not regulate air emissions from CAFOs like it does other industries. We need better data about exactly how much pollution CAFOs are responsible for in both our air and our water.
That’s why Senator Rich Madaleno, at the request of numerous Lower Shore residents, introduced the Community Healthy Air Act. This bill would require MDE to collect data and report on air emissions from CAFOs.
During the bill’s committee hearing, citizen groups and residents of the Eastern Shore who came to testify told their story about seeing more and more CAFOs pop up closer and closer to their properties. The air has gotten harder to breathe – and in some cases, the stench from these factory farms creep inside people’s homes. The Wicomico NAACP testified that these public health threats pose a special threat to areas with a majority of African American residents.
Residents have tried to pass public health ordinances that would protect them from the harmful effects of these operations, but local officials have not yet acted. They claim that they need additional air emissions data and have no authority to do so – which is where MDE comes in.
This bill is an important first step to keep harmful emissions from CAFOs in check and keep our residents safe. Tell your legislators you support the Community Healthy Air Act and urge them to vote YES! For more information, view our testimony on the bill here.
-Dawn Stoltzfus, MCAC Coordinator