On January 24, community groups and Eastern Shore residents came together to testify at a committee hearing for the Community Healthy Air Act, SB 133/HB 26. Poultry is the main agricultural animal industry in the state, and residents on the Eastern Shore, where thousands of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are located, are facing possible health consequences. According to EPA, these large animal feeding operations emit harmful air pollutants including ammonia, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds and endotoxins. However, the state does not currently monitor these pollutants, so we don’t know how they are affecting public health.

The Community Healthy Air Act, introduced by Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Robbyn Lewis, does not regulate poultry operations in any way, but requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to conduct a one-time study to assess air pollutants and public health risks associated with concentrated animal feeding operations.

Dr. Keeve E. Nachman, director at the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, spoke on a panel at the committee hearing for the bill. Nachman said scientific research makes it clear that these animal operations emit pollutants into the air, but a study needs to be done to see how the chemical exposure is affecting community health.

Testimony from citizen group leaders and Eastern Shore residents made it apparent that the questions surrounding their health and these large animal feeding operations need be answered. They have tried to pass public health ordinances in the past, but local officials have not acted on it. As more CAFOs continue to open near residential areas and next to neighborhoods, citizens said they find it hard to breathe because of the odor and dust in the air.

These areas are disproportionately communities of low-income individuals and communities of color. Wicomico, Somerset and other Eastern Shore counties also have some of the poorest health outcomes in the state, including higher rates of asthma and cancer.

While this bill does not require any additional measures be taken by the farm industry, it is a crucial first step in determining any potential public health or water quality harm being done by these industrial feeding operations in a localized, peer-reviewed study. With the Senate hearing last week, the bill moves on to the House Environment and Transportation committee hearing on Feb. 7. To join this cause for environmental justice, talk to your legislators and tell them to support the Community Healthy Air Act today!

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