Chapter 6 – Public Writings: Agriculture

Civilized and Inclusive

Chapter 6 – Public Writings: Agriculture


What Supervisors could have done. (7-07
)

What could the Supervisors have done instead of voting 4 to 0 to approve the Busch request to double the size of their current hog facility; especially when everyone who spoke at the public event was against the expansion?

It is the County Supervisors’ right, even when a confinement has enough matrix points and even when the DNR grants a permit, to protest that permit in front of the Environmental Protection Commission. They simply tell the Commission the reasons they feel a particular confinement, which may pass all the present legal requirements, isn’t a good idea and ask the Commission to deny the permit using the Commissions’ power under the Agency Discretionary Rules. Much of the Agency Discretionary Rules were written with karst in mind.

So, the Supervisors could have listened to the farmers who lived south of the existing, and new expansion site, who spoke of the stench of poison gasses from these confinements and how it has robbed them of their ability to live normally on their own property and voted no. If the Supervisors had questioned the audience more closely, they would have found that one of the objecting farmers’ children had asthma; which is consistent with the medical studies which have been done on those who live in proximity to confinements.

Also, over the last two years the Supervisor’s have been presented laws that already exist and have been asked to have the County adopt those laws. It was suggested that even though the Legislature and the DNR have not been inclined to regulate industrial agriculture, the County could by adopting already existing Federal laws. Those laws are:

  1. CERCLA provision of Superfund: Community Right to Know. Under this law monitoring equipment, per EPA regulations, would need to be installed at each confinement site and the EPA would need to be contacted each day that the facility discharges more than 100 lbs of ammonia into the atmosphere. The Oklahoma Attorney General is already using this law in an action against Tyson.
  2. The federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” can be enforced by OSHA through their “General Duty Clause”. This clause comes into effect if a serious hazard is identified. Since we know that over 20 Iowans have been killed from poison gasses in confinements, and that many studies show serious health effects to people from the emission of those poison gasses, the latest of which is the U. of Iowa study showing 55.8% of children on farms with confinements have asthma, these “recognized hazards” trigger OSHA’s “general duty clause” and allow OSHA to regulated these confinements. We asked the County to adopt OSHA’s Confined Spaces Regulations and General Duty Clause. It seems reasonable when all of the wastewater facilities and sewer systems in Winneshiek County are already regulated under these laws.

Further, knowing that there is a cumulative negative effect on the air in NE Iowa because of all the new confinements, the expansion of existing confinements, and new ethanol plants (another ethanol plant, sited between Postville and Monona, has recently applied for a permit), the Supervisors and the County Board of Health could join with their counterparts in Allamakee, Clayton and Fayette County’s and ask for a moratorium on any further confinement or ethanol plant building or expansion until an Environmental Impact Statement Study was completed.

I have been going to Supervisor’s meetings concerning hog confinements since 1995. In that time, I have never heard a neighbor say they wanted a confinement sited next to them. And, the stories from those who were already living next to confinements literally made people cry. There have been calls since that time till now for our Supervisors to do something to protect those who have the least ability to protect themselves. And yet in all that time, whoever the Supervisor’s have been, there has been nothing done to protect the people of Winneshiek County from poison gasses emanating from confinements. To me, that shows a lack of compassion, courage and statesmanship. And, I can only wonder what the Supervisors actually hear when they listen to those who are, and will be, most affected by confinements. It is simply a shame.

Bob Watson
Rural Decorah

Iowa’s farming model is poisonous (DSM Register 4-07)

Dear Editor,

A couple of months ago it was reported in the Register that the $800,000.00 fine imposed against Insituform as a result of the deaths of two of their employees from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning while working in the Des Moines sewer system was upheld. It is curious that for the 25 plus people killed from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning in hog confinements in Iowa, no company has ever been fined. Fecal waste in a closed structure always creates the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, no matter if it is in sewers or in agricultural confinements.

Contrary to the confinement deaths and 40 years of scientific studies showing the adverse affects on human health from these poison gasses, it now seems that what is left of the EPA under the Bush Administration wants us to believe that these gasses aren’t really poisonous when they come from agriculture. (“EPA wants exemption for livestock farms”, Des Moines Register)

Rural Iowans are being sacrificed because corporate America has chosen a petro-chemical/industrial model of agriculture which favors inputs and structures, over the environmentally and human health benign biological model which favors farmers’ labor and management. And now we are to grant a free pass for all the pollution, death and disease that comes with this industrial model. Where is the moral outrage at this state of affairs?

Rural Schools, Confinements and Poison Gasses. (March 2007)

This talk will explore the relationship between rural schools, confinements (with their constantly exhausting poison gasses), and the incidence of airborne diseases in children due to their proximity to these confinements. It will give you an understanding of the technology which creates ammonia and hydrogen-sulfide, and how you can at least protect children when they are inside your school buildings.

What follows is an important argument in that it gives a structure to understand generally all the particular community problems when a confinement moves into the neighborhood. It becomes not an argument about farming, but about industrial processes and their resultant poisons and how the community is affected by them.

Recognizing the larger ecological problem being that we have adopted industrial technologies for agricultural use, it is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate agricultural entities and some politicians as nothing more than what farming has always been. Any defense of industrial agriculture, based on the notion that this is how agriculture has always operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have only recently been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture. In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with composted manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with a poison liquid which has been made toxic through cooking for months in a septic tank, lagoon or pit. The poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are constantly generated from this untreated fecal waste and are continuously blown into the air of the neighborhood from the inside of the confinement building. We have people working in a hazardous workplace ignorant of the dangers because agriculture has been, by law, exempted from the regulations which would educate and protect them. People in the neighborhoods of confinements are in a similar situation as they are repeatedly told this is only a nuisance and they do not have the protections from these poisons afforded all other citizens where similar circumstances exist.

Confinements and city sewers have the same poison gasses and are the same technology. Confinements and sewers both are closed structures. They both have untreated fecal waste in them. That waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia in both confinements and sewers. People and animals need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer. The diseases and causes of deaths from those gasses are the same in sewers and confinements. Confinements and sewers are the same technology.

There are two major management differences. First, city sewers are designed to contain their poison gasses while confinements, having literally turned sewers on their head, are designed to constantly blow those poison gasses out into the surrounding neighborhood. Think of confinements as upside down sewers that exhaust their poisons so that the pigs or chickens inside can stay alive, which people in the neighborhood then have to breathe.

The second major difference is that city sewers are regulated by law, the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations”. By not regulating these gasses in agriculture there is no education and training about, and protection from, a hazardous work place; and there are no regulations protecting the public from these poisons from confinements as there are everywhere else in America where fecal waste producing hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases exist in a closed structure.

All international, national and state health regulatory agencies – World Health Organization, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Health and Safety Administration to name some – know that hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are dangerous to people. The science is settled on this issue, and we have understood the toxicology of those gasses since the 1950’s. In fact, it is an irony that one of the first studies to set an 8 hour limit for human exposure to ammonia was a 1960 OSHA study done on pigs.

Among many confinement studies over the last 30 years, a study in Utah simply looked at hospital records pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community. Those records show clearly a tripling of illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These illnesses are a direct result of the constant venting by those confinements of the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia into the neighborhoods around those confinements, and the contamination of the neighborhoods’ sources of drinking water by those confinements.

“Proximity of children to confinements” studies (University of Iowa’s Dr. Joel Kline http://www.chestjournal.org/cgi/content/full/129/6/1486 proximity to rural schools, James Merchant of the University of Iowa on asthma in children who live on a farm with a confinement http://www.ehponline.org/members/2004/7240/7240.pdf ) done since 2004 show even more alarming results. Iowa’s overall rate of asthma is about 6.7%. To generalize, it has been found that if a rural school has a confinement within 10 miles, 11.7% of the children have asthma – nearly twice the state rate. If a confinement is ½ mile away from a school, 24.6% of children have asthma – four times the state rate. And if you are a kid unlucky enough to live on a farm with a confinement, there is a 55.8% chance you will have asthma – nine times the state rate.

We have been raising pigs for between 7000 and 9000 years. We know how to raise animals in a manner benign to human health and the environment. It is unconscionable to do it otherwise. But, we seem to live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison our children, it is not illegal.

So what can be done to at least protect rural school children while they are in school buildings? In speaking with a civil engineer about this problem he pointed me to Koch Filter information. Page 2 talks about “Specialized Carbon Media” for ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, http://www.kochfilter.com/pdf/detailed/d_prod_12.pdf . I have included the link so that you can give this information to a local HVAC business so that they can adapt your schools ventilation system to accept this carbon filter. In that way you will at least protect the children from poison gasses while they are inside your buildings.

Bob Watson

 

Risks of animal confinements are known. (Des Moines Register 12-7-06.)

Dear Editor,

Pork industry representatives seem to have a reality disconnect. All international, national and state health regulatory agencies – World Health Organization, Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Health and Safety Administration to name some – know that hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are dangerous to people. The science is settled on this issue, and we have understood the toxicology of those gasses since the 1950’s. In fact, it is an irony that one of the first studies to set an 8 hour limit for human exposure to ammonia was a 1960 OSHA study done on pigs.

“Proximity of children to confinements” studies done since 2004 show even more alarming results. Iowa’s overall rate of asthma is about 6.7%. To generalize, it has been found that if a rural school has a confinement within 10 miles, 11.7% of the children have asthma – twice the state rate. If a confinement is ½ mile away from a school, 24.6% of children have asthma – four times the state rate. And if you are a kid unlucky enough to live on a farm with a confinement, there is a 55.8% chance you will have asthma – nine times the state rate.

We have been raising pigs for between 7000 and 9000 years. We know how to raise animals in a manner benign to human health and the environment. It is unconscionable to do it otherwise. But, we seem to live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison our children, it is not illegal.

Bob Watson
Decorah

To: City Council.
Re: Request for Rural/Urban Cooperation.

Dear Council,

My name is Bob Watson. Because I would like a written response from the Council to the request I am making today, this request will be in written form. After reading it to you, I will give it to you.

We hear much about rural and urban Iowans working together to solve problems that we have in Iowa. It is in that spirit of cooperation that I am here today. Many times it is necessary to experience something to actually understand it. I am going to ask that you and your children share with rural Iowan’s and their children an ongoing rural experience. Hopefully, once you share that experience, we can work together in resolving this issue.

I will briefly describe the experience and its’ effects on rural people and their children. I will then talk about what technology is in operation in your city which would allow you to share this experience. I will mention how you can easily modify that technology so that you can share the experience. And, finally, I will formally ask you to share in that experience.

Among many confinement studies over the last 30 years, a study in Utah simply looked at hospital records pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community. Those records show clearly a tripling of illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These illnesses are a direct result of the constant venting by those confinements of the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia into the neighborhoods around those confinements, and the contamination of the neighborhoods’ sources of drinking water by those confinements.

A study concerning proximity of confinements to rural schools in Iowa and the incidence of asthma among those schools students was conducted by the University of Iowa’s Dr. Joel Kline http://www.chestjournal.org/cgi/content/full/129/6/1486 . The overall rate of physician-diagnosed asthma in Iowa is about 6.7%. Two rural schools were in the study. One school had no confinement closer than 10 miles, and the other, a NE Iowa school, was ½ mile from a confinement. In the school which was 10 miles away from a confinement, 11.7% of the students were found to have asthma, double the Iowa rate. In the school which was only a ½ mile from a confinement, 24.6% of the students were found to have asthma, four times the Iowa rate.

In a recent study by James Merchant of the University of Iowa on asthma in children who live on a farm with a confinement http://www.ehponline.org/members/2004/7240/7240.pdf , it was found that after all other factors were accounted for, a shocking 55.8% of those children had asthma as a direct result of living on that farm with that confinement, nine times the Iowa rate for asthma. This study also found that antibiotics from the confinements are particularized and blown into the air along with the poison gases. We are constantly breathing not only poison gases from confinements but also antibiotics.

These are astounding rates of asthma, 11.7%-24.6%-55.8%, and increases of other illnesses for people, especially children, in rural Iowa who are in proximity to confinements.

All international, national and state health regulatory agencies, World Health Organization – Environmental Protection Agency – Occupational Health and Safety Agency to name some, know that hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are dangerous to people. There is no argument about that danger; the science is settled on this issue. We see the dangerous results of exposure to those gasses in the rates of asthma and other illnesses in people in the rural areas of Iowa.

Now, how is it that you and your children have the capability to share in this experience? What technology exists in a city which constantly creates the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia? The answer is – your sewers.

How do we know confinements and sewers are the same technology? Confinements and sewers both are closed structures. They both have untreated fecal waste in them. That waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia in both confinements and sewers. People and animals need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer. The diseases and causes of deaths from those gasses are the same in sewers and confinements. That is how we know confinements and sewers are the same technology.

There are two major management differences. City sewers are designed to contain their poison gasses while confinements, having literally turned sewers on their head, are designed to constantly blow those poison gasses out into the surrounding neighborhood. Think of confinements as upside down sewers that exhaust their poisons, which people in the neighborhood then have to breathe, so that the pigs or chickens inside can stay alive. The second major difference is that your sewers are regulated by law.

So, how can you modify your sewers so that you and your children can share in the experience of having poison sewer gasses in your neighborhoods? And, this is my formal request of you today: Take the manhole covers off your sewers, put blowers down in those sewers and blow the poison sewer gasses out into your neighborhoods. After experiencing those poison sewer gasses and their health effects, hopefully, in the spirit of rural/urban cooperation, you will then want to work with your rural neighbors to resolve this issue.

Because part of what I am doing is documenting who can and cannot have these gasses in their neighborhoods, if you think sewer gasses in your neighborhoods might not be a good idea, or, if you think there might be some law, or other reasons, prohibiting you from blowing poison gasses into your neighborhoods, I would ask that you include what those reasons might be in your written response to my request. There are professionals employed by this city who work with these poisons on a daily basis. Your Wastewater Superintendent, Collection System Supervisor, or whoever keeps you in OSHA compliance, could tell you why my request should or shouldn’t be granted.

Thank you very much for your time and for considering my request that you and your children share in the continuing rural experience of breathing poison sewer gasses. (I will answer any questions you may have.)

Bob Watson

2736 Lannon Hill Rd
Decorah, IA 52101
563-382-5848

Confinement strategy using the “Council Request”

The following will help explain the history and perspective which allows the “Council Request” to be seen as a “peace and justice” issue. This perspective also negates the need to argue about agriculture, farmers, animals, etc. when talking about confinements. You won’t have to fight with anyone and will simply be talking about poison gasses and what those gasses are doing to people in proximity to confinements, especially to children. This issue has always been a “peace and justice” issue, it just has taken awhile to sort through the spin to become clear about the actual problems.

If you are in Iowa, please take the “Council Request” to your City Council, read it for me, and have the Council send the written response to me. I will try to get to most of the larger cities in Iowa myself. If you are in a larger city and know someone on your Council who could make this process easier for me, please contact me. If you are in a smaller community and would like me to come to your council anyway, please let me know.

The “Council Request” is fairly generic. This is not intended just for Iowa. If you are in another state, you can change who the “Request” should be sent to, change the “state” in the text, and use it in your state as a way to fight confinements.

There are two levels at work in the “Council Request”. On one level, I am actually looking for partners in this issue. Hence the request to have the entire population share in this experience. On another level, I am trying to document who is protected by law from these gasses and who is not; which is why the request is formal and asks for a written response.

I do not expect to have any town or city actually take up the request. What I plan on doing with the written “we decline” responses is to take them to the Legislature, point out that it is illegal for half the population to have these poison gasses in their neighborhoods (urban), and illegal for the other half (rural) “not” to have them in their neighborhoods. The Legislature will then need to deal with that conundrum.

For a more complete history of what is actually going on with confinements as industrial technology, you can go to www.oneota.net/~watsoncampaign or google “Civilized and Inclusive”, and click on chapter 6. A short version of chapter 6 and the history leading up to the “Request” perspective includes the following information:

What follows is an important argument in that it gives a structure to understand generally all the particular community problems when a confinement moves into the neighborhood. It becomes not an argument about farming, but about industrial processes and their resultant poisons and how the community is affected by them.

Recognizing the larger ecological problem being that we have adopted industrial technologies for agricultural use, it is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate agricultural entities and some politicians as nothing more than what farming has always been. Any defense of industrial agriculture, based on the notion that this is how agriculture has always operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have only recently been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture. In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with composted manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with a poison liquid which has been made toxic through cooking for months in a septic tank, lagoon or pit. The poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are constantly generated from this untreated fecal waste and are continuously blown into the air of the neighborhood from the inside of the confinement building. We have people working in a hazardous workplace ignorant of the dangers because agriculture has been, by law, exempted from the regulations which would educate and protect them. People in the neighborhoods of confinements are in a similar situation as they are repeatedly told this is only a nuisance and they do not have the protections from these poisons afforded all other citizens where similar circumstances exist.

In every sector of America where fecal waste, constantly generating the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, exists in a closed structure the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” are the controlling laws, except in agriculture. How do we know they should be applied here too? In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c. If hog confinements and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have untreated fecal waste in them, if that waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, if the causes of diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer pipe, then confinements and sewer pipes are the same. The differences are sewers contain the poison gasses while confinements blow them into the surrounding neighborhood; the waste in sewers is ultimately treated while the confinements don’t get their waste treated (for those who tout that some sort of treatment would solve the problems with confinements let me point out that that would make no difference to air pollution because the venting of poison gases to the atmosphere is an issue separate from and prior to any treatment); there is no federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulation’ providing for education and training about, and protections from, a hazardous work place; and there are no regulations protecting the public from these poisons from confinements as there is in sewers and as there is everywhere else in America where fecal waste producing hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases exist in a closed structure.

With this information we begin to understand the confinement issue as a “peace and justice” issue. Normally “peace and justice” work has to do with defending those who have no power, sophistication, ability, understanding or resources to defend themselves. The lack of laws, the bombardment of spin, both on those directly affected and those who would otherwise know better saying this is just agriculture, and the resultant life threatening consequences makes this a most pressing “peace and justice” issue in Iowa.

Because laws are being ignored and because agriculture has been exempted from most regulatory laws which would normally control actions and protect people, we are left with appealing to morals and ethics to affect what is happening to our environment and to our people.

For the purpose of discussion I will mean “moral” to be about life, health and mortality, and “ethics” in this context will be about interactions between beings. The specific moral and ethical dimensions I would like you to keep in mind as you think about this issue are:

Moral implications of using an inherently poisonous (petro-chemical/industrial) model of agriculture;

Ethical implications of using an inherently poisonous model of agriculture when benign models exist;

Ethical implications of transferring highly regulated industrial technologies into the unregulated (by law) area of agriculture;

Ethical implications of having no conversation on the use of these models in the national political arena where we make these choices;

Moral implications of having laws which lead directly to the poisoning of people resulting in disease and death;

Ethical implications of using laws to take away protection of people in the case of petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, when in every other sector of America where these conditions exist, laws protect people;

Ethical implications of laws which are internally absurd being used to deny protections both to people and the environment;

Moral implications of one sector of society taking away clean air and water for all other sectors (read people) through daily operation and pollution events.

Please print the attached “Council Request”, read it to and give it to your City Council, and ask them to send their written response to me. For those of you who do not open attachments, the “Council Request” text follows below this email.

Thank you for helping in bringing this “peace and justice” issue closer to a resolution. Please forward this email or post it to your website.

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Stressing Iowa’s Environment: An Argument, A Snapshot, An Overview
Sinkholes and Confinements in Karst Topography

We live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison your neighbor, it is not illegal.

Because we have adopted petro-chemical (row crop)/ industrial (confinement) agriculture as our dominant model of agriculture over the last 50 years, rural America has become a sacrifice area.

There are no cities or towns in Iowa that I am aware of that take their manhole covers off of their sewers, put blowers down in the sewers, and blow those poison sewer gasses up into the air over those cities. There are obvious health reasons why this is not allowed. Knowing that these same poison sewer gasses are being produced by confinements, why do we allow these poison gasses to be blown into our rural neighborhoods?

By using two particular examples of confinements in karst, the larger general context of petro-chemical/industrial agriculture’s detrimental environmental and ecological effects will come into focus. One of the confinements discussed is a chicken confinement which, because of multiple buildings on each site measuring 60 feet by 620 feet each and each building containing 49,999 birds, raises the issues of scale, “human induced sinkholes”, antibiotic resistance through integrons in the beds, and bird flu risk among others. These chicken confinements belong to Cottonballs whose owners also own Agriprosessors in Postville. The hog confinement example is referred to locally as the St. Bridget’s Catholic Church confinement and this confinement highlights the loss of the legal requirement of having a 1000 foot separation distance between a confinement and a sinkhole in karst.

Sinkholes, a major feature of karst topography, besides appearing out of the blue, are a direct conduit to underground streams, rivers, springs and aquifers (which are one of our public sources of clean drinking water). Think of sinkholes as enablers of environmental disaster if there were a confinement pollution event close by.

The karst topography in much of the Upper Iowa River Watershed and the rest of Northeast Iowa consists of fractured bedrock overlain by a thin layer of soil. In karst areas, surface water travels rapidly and unfiltered through fractures in the bedrock, through sinkholes, and through stream sinks and can quickly mix with groundwater.

The dynamic mixing of surface and groundwater makes karst areas particularly susceptible to groundwater contamination. In addition, surface water that enters the ground through a sinkhole can re-emerge through springs and seeps many miles away from where it originally went under ground, making it difficult to identify the original source of impairment or pollution.

Here are two slides which will give a little context. (Show slide #1 and #2). Slide #1 shows the tilt of the aquifers under Iowa. Slide #2 shows the areas of fractured bedrock and sinkholes. This gives you a good idea of the intersection of the aquifers and sinkhole in karst. And, illustrates fairly clearly that what we flush in Northeast Iowa you ultimately drink.

Recognizing the larger ecological problem being that we have adopted industrial technologies for agricultural use, it is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate agricultural entities and some politicians as nothing more than what farming has always been. Any defense of industrial agriculture, based on the notion that this is how agriculture has always operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have only recently been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture. In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with composted manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with a poison liquid which has been made toxic through cooking for months in a septic tank, lagoon or pit. The poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are constantly generated from this untreated fecal waste and are continuously blown into the air of the neighborhood from the inside of the confinement building. We have people working in a hazardous workplace ignorant of the dangers because agriculture has been, by law, exempted from the regulations which would educate and protect them. People in the neighborhoods of confinements are in a similar situation as they are repeatedly told this is only a nuisance and they do not have the protections from these poisons afforded all other citizens where similar circumstances exist.

This is an important argument in that it gives a structure to understand generally all the particular community problems when a confinement moves into the neighborhood. It becomes not an argument about farming, but about industrial processes and their resultant poisons and how the community is affected by them.

In every sector of America where fecal waste, constantly generating the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, exists in a closed structure the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” are the controlling laws, except in agriculture. How do we know they should be applied here too? In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c. If hog confinements and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have untreated fecal waste in them, if that waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, if the causes of diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer pipe, then confinements and sewer pipes are the same. The differences are sewers contain the poison gasses while confinements blow them into the surrounding neighborhood; the waste in sewers is ultimately treated while the confinements don’t get their waste treated (for those who tout that some sort of treatment would solve the problems with confinements let me point out that that would make no difference to air pollution because the venting of poison gases to the atmosphere is an issue separate from and prior to any treatment); there is no federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulation’ providing for education and training about, and protections from, a hazardous work place; and there are no regulations protecting the public from these poisons from confinements as there is in sewers and as there is everywhere else in America where fecal waste producing hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases exist in a closed structure.

In Iowa law there is supposed to be a 1000 foot separation distance between sinkholes and confinements in NE Iowa’s karst topography. That separation distance gives the public some assurance that their public water supply, aquifers, will not be subject to a pollution event from an industrial agricultural confinement. Not so anymore. Because there are so many places a proposed new confinement would be within 1000 feet of a sinkhole, and therefore not allowed, some pork producers asked our local legislators, Chuck Gipp and Mark Zieman, to change the law. In 2002 they did. SF 2293 repealed the section in 455B which had, in part, to do with separation distance from sinkholes. A new provision for “secondary containment structures” allowed building confinements within the 1000 foot minimum.

When confinements started being put in next to sinkholes (the St Bridget’s confinement), we asked the DNR how that could be when there was supposed to be a 1000 foot separation. The DNR held an upper level management meeting where this was discussed. At that meeting the DNR lawyers said that because of the way the new law was written, a variance granted for the 1000 foot minimum if a “secondary containment structure” was put in place, there was “effectively no longer any separation distance between sinkholes and confinements”. A confinement could now be built right next to a sinkhole. Oddly, no one at that DNR meeting seemed to think they might want to look into how or why this change to the safety of the public’s water supply happened.

It happened because some producers in Allamakee County, which is extremely hilly, were looking for a way to expand their herds. They asked their legislators to grant a variance to the minimum separation distance law if a sinkhole within the separation distance was actually on the other side of a ridge in another mini-watershed.

There are two problems with this change in the law. One problem is thinking just because a sinkhole is over a hill it isn’t going to be impacted by any pollution events within 1000 ft. And the second problem is that the language of the changed law left out the words “in another watershed”, which was the only variance the producers were actually asking for; and by being left out of the new language allowed confinements to be sited uphill from and right next to existing sinkholes.

The concept of “secondary containment” comes from the EPA’s regulation of the petroleum industry. It originally meant an earthen berm 360 degrees around a set of above ground tanks capable of holding 150% of the largest tank. The rules that were put in place to carry out the Iowa law say the berm must contain 120% capacity of an above grade (above ground) storage structure. In karst, because of sinkholes, confinements are required to have underground tanks and earthen lagoons for manure storage are not allowed. But, “secondary containment” in karst now means a pit dug on one side of the building big enough to hold 50% of the manure. How this ground level pit is supposed to contain a leak from an underground tank is unknown. How any spill is supposed to happen on only that one side of the building is unknown. And, how something illegal in karst for manure storage because of sinkholes, namely an earthen structure (the pit), allows you to build right next to a sinkhole in karst is also unknown.

Somehow in karst we have not only lost minimum separation distance to sinkholes, but also the 120% capacity has become 50%, and the berm calculation is based on above ground storage, which is not allowed in karst. If you carry out the berm calculation, because there is no above grade storage to multiply out, the answer always turns out to be zero. This is clearly an absurd situation and when I pointed this out to Jeff Vonk he said he wasn’t concerned that the calculation was absurd because the tanks were concrete. This is a naïve perspective in light of what hydrogen-sulfide does to any concrete tank and what Mother Nature has shown us she thinks of our technology lately.

We are in real danger when our legislators are unable to understand the effects of laws they pass. And when they, and our regulatory officials, are apprised of those effects and are unwilling to reinsert the provisions which protect the public, we are courting disaster.

Am I being Chicken Little crying that the sky is going to fall? If we know what has happened when we build waste storage in karst topography when no sinkholes are apparent (show pictures 1 and 2 of lagoon sinkhole events), then why would we be so stupid as to risk ruining our public water by sighting waste storage right next to a known sinkhole?

We are having a running argument with the State Geologist, Bob Libra, about the nature of karst, Iowa’s karst, and what are referred to as “human induced sinkholes”. Bob said he doesn’t attend the annual “Sinkhole Conferences” (where last year half the papers presented were about “human induced sinkholes”) because Iowa’s karst is not the same as other karst. (show Garnavillo) Well, here is Garnavillo’s lagoon. I guess our karst is not so different from other karst areas after all.

This is probably a good time to bring in the chicken confinement example since what we are dealing with there is a “human induced sinkhole” and the pollution events which that sinkhole has caused.

During site preparation for a Cottonballs LLC industrial broiler confinement site (#1) in Winneshiek County, the contractor doing the work breached a shallow level aquifer. This was done either when leveling off the tops of two hills to create room for two 60′ by 620′ buildings and the road around them, or when they were scraping away bedrock in the area in between where the buildings would be (down to rock that their equipment could no longer scrape through) for surface drainage.

The contractor admitted to Mike Meyer that the pollution in Mike’s never-before-polluted-spring was caused by his site work and that they attempted to repair the breached aquifer by putting dirt on it. Mike had tested his spring the week before and did so after it turned milky yellow and also took numerous pictures. Incidentally, the test results from the Iowa Hygienic Lab comments stated the water was no longer safe for drinking and the springs’ aquifer must have been disturbed somehow and that disturbance should be discovered and corrected.

There have now been seven pollution events in the Meyer spring following directly on the heels of four construction events at Cottonballs’ sites 1 and 2. And, an eighth event of a new natural sinkhole opening up down the drainage of site #2.

First event: Meyer spring inundated with limestone residue following initial scraping of bedrock at site 1 down to rock that no longer could be dug out.

Second event: black dirt put over area at site 1 to try to cover up the “human induced” sinkhole washed through to the Meyer spring.

Third event: well drilling foam from well being drilled on site 2 washed through to Meyer spring.

Fourth event: more foam coming through to the spring.

Fifth event: the DNR said that a certain type of soil needed to be put on the area of the breach and that would stop the flow of the sediment to the spring. That soil washed through into the spring with the first 1″ plus rain of the season.

Sixth event: more of that new soil washed through to the spring with this last weekend’s rain.

Seventh event: on Wednesday, June 21st, after a 1.7″ rain event, sediment pollution of the soil which was supposed to close everything back up came through to the spring. This is the third time the special soil has washed through to the spring.

Eighth event: a new natural sinkhole has opened up down the drainage slope from site 2.

Ninth event: the floor of one of the buildings has remained wet. The fans have been on for over a month (this is July 28th) trying to dry the floor out. Remember that broilers must have a dirt floor. We believe this drying problem is from creating a seep/spring along with the “human induced sinkhole” when the aquifer was originally breached. They have effectively built on a spring and the floor will probably always have water creeping through it.

There were two more pollution events to the spring in August of ’06. August 6th sediment pollution to the spring from a 1.1″ rain’; and August 14th a very cloudy lime sediment event to the spring from a 1.7″ rain. There have now been nine direct pollution events to the spring from site 1 and site 2.

Our meetings with the DNR about this site have been less than satisfying for a number of reasons.

The Legislature has never given the DNR any authority to stop a pollution event from happening. The DNR must wait for pollution to happen before doing anything.

Even though grading at site 1 has created “sinkhole like pollution events” in the Meyer spring, we can’t get the State Geologist to agree that a “human induced sinkhole” was created at site 1. If the DNR did agree that this was a sinkhole, site 1 could not be used for any confinement. Half the papers presented at last years 10th Annual Sinkhole Conference held in San Antonio Texas were about “human induced sinkholes”

The DNR will not stop construction at site 1 until conclusive evidence is found one way or the other whether a sinkhole now exists there.

The DNR will not accept responsibility for monitoring site 1, and will not continue to test water at the Meyer spring. They say those responsibilities are Mike Meyer’s even though Iowa law has been changed and no sample collected by a private citizen, Iowater trained or not, even tested at an accredited lab, is allowed in court proceedings.

The State says the DNR has authority in cases like this. Even though the DNR can’t, or won’t, do anything, the State will not allow the County protect the neighbor’s water.

There are many laws which exist to control situations like this and other confinement type structures. They are just not allowed to be used to protect people when agriculture is involved.

Even though no laws exist for CAFO’s to control their poison gas discharges, laws exist which make CAFO’s responsible for monitoring and reporting to the EPA those discharges. These planned chicken confinement facilities in Winneshiek County will be above the threshold which requires EPA notification of ammonia discharges (CERCLA provision of Superfund: Community Right to Know).

The threshold for EPA notification of ammonia discharge of 100 lbs/day is reached by a facility when there are approximately 35,000 broilers in a building. This proposal will have 49,999 broilers in each building. Thus, monitoring equipment per EPA regulations should be installed in each building and the EPA should be contacted each day that the facility discharges more than 100 lbs of ammonia into the atmosphere. No such provisions have been required by the State. We have requested that our County adopt the Superfund’s CERCLA provisions.

We are still trying to get people to understand that, because of scale, these chicken confinements will always cause problems in karst topography.

Scientists have long known that waste beds of commercial chicken houses abound with potentially dangerous bacteria. In April ’05 a team led by microbiologist Anne Summers of the University of Georgia reported that the beds are also littered with integrons, genes that can render those bacteria impervious to several antibiotics at once, making them nearly impossible to kill.

For 13 weeks, Summers and her colleagues sampled feces, skin, feathers, and other organic material from two major commercial chicken houses in Georgia. The scientists discovered high numbers of integrons not only in bacteria such as E coli and salmonella but also in germs that were previously assumed to be free of the resistance-forming genes, such as staphylococci. The result suggests that integrons are much more common, both in animals and the humans who handle them, than previously thought.

Microbiologists believe that integrons have existed for eons but took on their current role only after the development of the first antibiotics, which gave an advantage to microbes that could collect the resistance genes. These gene snippets spread when their bacterial hosts reproduce or acquire them from nearby dead cells. Moreover, integrons travel easily between humans, pets, livestock, and their wastes via bacteria that are inhaled or eaten. I Quote: “We continually ingest bacteria from uncooked food, from our pets, from intimate behavior with other humans, and from putting our unwashed hands into our noses or mouths,” Summers says. “This is a warning bell.” It explains why antibiotic resistance spreads so quickly and extensively after drugs are introduced.” End Quote. It takes six weeks for these bugs to make their way into the bodies of the workers and neighbors in and around these confinements, possibly leaving them with no way to fight diseases normally treatable with antibiotics.

There are literally hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of hog confinements on people and animals over the last 45 years. Ironically, because some studies to set human limits for these gases were done on pigs, we know that animals are susceptible to the same diseases from confinements as people. There may be an argument by some about the “good science” of all those studies, but there can be no argument about the government’s own studies (Utah) culling hospital records, pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These are a direct result of the constant venting of those poison gasses into the neighborhood and the contamination of the sources of water. Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning four times higher in Iowa in agriculture than in the regulated wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from confinements becomes more than obvious.

A proximity study of confinements to rural schools in Iowa and the incidence of asthma among those students was conducted by the University of Iowa’s Dr. Joel Kline. The overall rate of physician-diagnosed asthma in Iowa is about 6.7%. Two rural schools were in the study. One had no confinement closer than 10 miles, and the other was ½ mile from a confinement. The students in the school which was 10 miles away from a confinement were found to have 11.7%, or double the Iowa rate for asthma. 24.6% of the students in the school which was only a ½ mile from a confinement were found to have asthma, four times the Iowa rate.

In a recent study by James Merchant of the University of Iowa on asthma in children who live on a farm with a CAFO http://www.ehponline.org/members/2004/7240/7240.pdf , it was found that after all other factors were accounted for, a shocking 55.8% of those children had asthma as a direct result of living on that farm with that CAFO. This study also found that antibiotics from the confinements are aerosol-ized and blown into the air along with the poison gases. We are breathing not only poison gases from these confinements but also antibiotics.

These are astounding rates of asthma, 11.7%-24.6%-55.8%, for people and children in rural Iowa who are in proximity to confinements.

Explanations of the Midwest wide cloud of ammonia haze, concentrated over Iowa, conveniently leave out as sources of that haze the over 10,000 CAFO’s and open feedlots which constantly (24/7) spew ammonia into the atmosphere. (show picture) The authors of this map who use this information in their presentations do attribute the ammonia to animal feeding operations; both CAFO’s and open feedlots. The DNR has had conversations about and knows that when it rains and the ammonia precipitates out of the air as ammonium nitrate, that amount of ammonium nitrate is a significant contributor to the EPA imposed limit where ammonia is no longer a nutrient, but becomes a pollutant in our surface waters. In other words, farmers don’t need to put down ammonia fertilizer in Iowa, they just need it to rain.

Finally let me address whether or not through conservation methods petro-chemical/industrial agriculture can be saved from itself. I think the answer is no. Because there are no soil building practices inherent in petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, if we don’t change the model we will ultimately run out of soil. Because of our hilly topography, this is already happening in Northeast Iowa. Even in areas where we have adopted no-till practices, we are still losing 5.5 tons of soil/acre/year. Because of petro-chemical/industrial agricultures very nature we will always be putting chemicals from fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides into the environment. We will always be putting toxic waste from confinements into the air and water. We will always have the anti-biotic resistance problem. And, because we have tiled most of the land, and because we are technically farming subsoil which is no longer rich in organic life capable of treating and using our waste, we will always have harmful organisms and poisons going through those tiles directly into our surface and groundwater. Because of these reasons, petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is ultimately a dead end. Only through a move to different models of agriculture can we expect to attain a clean and healthy agriculture and environment.

There are benign models of agriculture which exist. By adopting these models we not only build soil and clean up the environment, but because that type of farming uses labor and management rather than structures and inputs, we put more farmers back on the land.

Iowa Code 2003: Section 455E.5 Groundwater protection policies. #3 All persons in the state have the right to have their lawful use of groundwater unimpaired by the activities of any person which render the water unsafe or unpotable. #4 All persons in the state have the duty to conduct their activities so as to prevent the release of contaminants into groundwater. These, and the other sections of 455E.5, seem rather clear.

Because these laws are being ignored and because agriculture has been exempted from most regulatory laws which would normally control actions and protect people, we are left with appealing to morals and ethics to affect what is happening to our environment and to our people.

For the purpose of this discussion I will mean moral to be about life, health and mortality, and ethics in this context will be about interactions between beings. The specific moral and ethical dimensions I would like you to keep in mind as you think about what I have presented here are:

Moral implications of using an inherently poisonous (petro-chemical/industrial) model of agriculture;

Ethical implications of using an inherently poisonous model of agriculture when benign models exist;

Ethical implications of transferring highly regulated industrial technologies into the unregulated (by law) area of agriculture;

Ethical implications of having no conversation on the use of these models in the national political arena where we make these choices;

Moral implications of having laws which lead directly to the poisoning of people resulting in disease and death;

Ethical implications of using laws to take away protection of people in the case of petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, when in every other sector of America where these conditions exist, laws protect people;

Ethical implications of laws which are internally absurd being used to deny protections both to people and the environment;

Moral implications of one sector of society taking away clean air and water for all other sectors (read people) through daily operation and pollution events.

Thank you.

 

Public Safety (1-1-06)

In Iowa law there is supposed to be a 1000 foot separation distance between sinkholes and confinements in NE Iowa’s karst topography. That separation distance gives the public some assurance that their public water supply, aquifers, will not be subject to a pollution event from an industrial agricultural confinement. Not so anymore. Because there are so many places a proposed new confinement would be within 1000 feet of a sinkhole, and therefore not allowed, the pork producers asked our local legislators, Chuck Gipp and Mark Zieman, to change the law. In 2002 they did. SF 2293 repealed the section in 455B which had, in part, to do with separation distance from sinkholes. A new provision for “secondary containment structures” allowed building confinements within the 1000 foot minimum and that new language is, I think, found in 459.

When confinements started being put in next to sinkholes, we asked the DNR how that could be when there was supposed to be a 1000 foot separation. The DNR held an upper level management meeting where this was discussed. At that meeting the DNR lawyers said that because of the way the new law, a variance granted for the 1000 foot minimum if a “secondary containment structure” was put in place, was written, there was “effectively no longer any separation distance between sinkholes and confinements”. A confinement could now be built right next to a sinkhole. Oddly, no one at that DNR meeting seemed to think they might want to look into how or why this change to the safety of the public’s water supply happened.

The concept of “secondary containment” comes from the EPA’s regulation of the petroleum industry. It originally meant an earthen berm 360 degrees around a set of above ground tanks capable of holding 150% of the largest tank. In karst, for confinements with underground tanks, “secondary containment” means a pit dug on one side of the building big enough to hold 50% of the manure. How this ground level pit is supposed to contain a leak from an underground tank is unknown. How any spill is supposed to happen on only that one side of the building is unknown. And, how something illegal in karst for manure storage because of sinkholes, namely an earthen structure (the pit), allows you to build right next to a sinkhole in karst is also unknown.

We are in real danger when our legislators are unable to understand the effects of laws they pass. And when they, and our regulatory officials, are apprised of those effects and are unwilling to reinsert the provisions which protect the public, we are courting disaster.

Agriculture’s Vicious Circle (2005)

With the two stories under the headline “Forced from the fields”, Sunday, Nov 20th Gazette, we see the closing of the vicious circle and cycle brought about by America’s use of the poisonous petro-chemical/industrial model of agriculture, and its Corporate sponsored Foreign Trade Policy.

For the last 50 years we have dumped chemicals, and now toxic tank or lagoon liquid non-composted manure, on continuously row cropped soils resulting in polluted waters not only in Iowa, but as far away as the Gulf of Mexico where Iowa’s pollution alone accounts for 23% of the dead zone. The latest Iowa study on kids who live on farms with confinements finds that 55.8% of those kids have asthma as a direct result of those confinements.

Our agriculture is poisoning us here at home and we are losing our soil at a non-sustainable rate. Our Foreign Trade Policy, through subsidized grains, is making subsistence farmers from abroad have to leave home. Those farmers can no longer afford to raise the crops to feed their families. To make money they have to leave their families and travel thousands of miles to work as undocumented illegal aliens in the US, thereby taking away American jobs and straining our welfare system.

If we have to dump those grains abroad, apparently we don’t need to raise them in the first place. We have benign, non-polluting, models of agriculture in which we can raise the kinds of foods we need to eat, the kinds of crops we need to have a manufacturing base here in Iowa, and that uses farmers instead of inputs to run that agriculture.

If we used that benign model, we would not be tearing farm families apart abroad; we would be putting farmers back on the land here in Iowa; we would be building healthy soil and not polluting our water, air and soil; and we would be creating value-added industries to rebuild Iowa’s manufacturing infrastructure.

Cellulose, including switchgrass, based ethanol. Hemp, from which 26,000 products can be manufactured and which is a cover crop requiring no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Pasture, cover crops, and crop rotation systems. Animals integrated along with their manure. Farmers. This is a benign model of agriculture which raises food and does no harm.

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Iowa’s Pollution Problem (2005)

The Iowa Water Pollution Control Association (IWPCA), as an organization doesn’t care how much money is spent on cleaning up the environment. The IWPCA’s members, for the most part, are made up of people who process human waste daily and all the money spent in this endeavor is your tax money. If you, as an Iowan, want to spend as much of your money as it will take to clean wastewater to “X” purity that is okay with the members who make up the IWPCA. It is your money. Give it to us and we will make effluent even cleaner than it is now.

The argument which the IWPCA is trying inform you of is this: You can spend this $1.5 billion dollars to get rid of lagoons in Iowa (just the first installment, then comes operation, maintenance and upgrades to the 400 new mechanical plants), and you will get less than 1% cleaner waters in the state. In fact, even if you spend as much money on tightening the effluent limits in Iowa today as you have spent since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, you will still realize less than 1% cleaner water in the state. The IWPCA, although rather clumsily because we are a volunteer organization, with rotating executive positions and no paid lobbyists or staff to put out slick talking points, is simply making the argument that because 95% of pollution in the state comes from agriculture and only 5% from wastewater (accepted figures for many years), if that initial $1.5 billion was spent on watershed reparations to alleviate some of the agricultural pollution going into the waterways, you would be getting a greater bang for your tax dollar. And, you might even realize a 10% increase in the cleanliness of Iowa’s waters.

The IWPCA has recently joined a working group which includes the Iowa Farm Bureau and many other petro-chemical/industrial agriculture corporations to fight this “stricter wasterwater plant effluent limits” approach to cleaning Iowa’s waters. This association (which makes many of us in the IWPCA uncomfortable) was formed because the agricultural concerns know they are the elephant in the room, and if the cities are hit with these new effluent regulations, they will simply start pointing to what everyone agrees is the major polluter in the state, namely agriculture. It is in the petro-chemical/industrial agriculture corporations’ best interest to not let that particular genie out of the bottle. Hence the alliance.

Quit blaming the IWPCA for positions it does not hold. Members of the IWPCA use your tax dollars to do your work. If you want more tax dollars spent on wastewater treatment, okay. We need $1.5 billion to start. But, you might want to understand clearly how to get the biggest bang for your buck in cleaning up Iowa’s waters.

 

Genesis of law that allows no separation between confinements and sinkholes. (6-6-05)

The law that resulted in no separation distances between hog confinements and sinkholes comes from two distinct sources.  (I have been informed that the DNR is rewriting the “earthen berm” option, but doing it in a way that allows no public input.  I will add that info when I receive it.)

First source: it was an unwritten rule used by the DNR when they found a confinement that was already built and through an honest mistake was sited too close to a sinkhole, the DNR would allow that confinement to exist, rather than tear it down, if they built an earthen berm around the confinement which would contain any spill that might happen.  This unwritten rule was never used to allow new construction.

Second source: the producers in Allamakee County, which is extremely hilly, were looking for a way to expand their herds.  They asked their local state legislators to grant a variance to the minimum separation distance law, 1000 ft (or by DNR discretion 2000 ft), if a sinkhole was on the other side of a ridge in another mini-watershed.

There are two problems with this change in the law.  One problem is thinking just because a sinkhole is over a hill it isn’t going to be impacted by any pollution events within 1000 ft.  And the second problem is that the language of the changed law left out the words “in another watershed”, which was the only variance the producers were actually asking for.

This second problem, leaving out the words “in another watershed” is what has legally allowed confinements to be built right next to sinkholes.  The DNR lawyers took a look at the law and concluded that the DNR would lose any lawsuit brought by a producer wanting to use the earthen berm option to build when a sinkhole is closer than the minimum 1000 ft.  (Upon discovering this, why didn’t the DNR lawyers say “Wait a minute. This minimum separation distance is what protects the public watersource.” And research why this law was being changed, and bring this oversight to the Legislature’s attention so that the law could be put back to the correct language? And, what the producers actually asked for in the first place?)

Also, somehow the definition of “earthen berm” has been changed from its original meaning of “an earthen structure 360 degrees around a building (or storage tank, etc.) capable of containing all of the stored material if there is a spill or leak”, to “a pit dug on one side of a building able to contain 50% of the material”.

This is still even more bizarre and I direct you to my papers Geologic within Ecologic, or CAFO’s in Karst, or Bioethics Paper to get a better idea of how weird this change in the minimum separation distance law ended up and how it got that way.

This is the story of the DNR part of the change in the law:

Okay. I didn’t read every line of all the emails, but I think I get the drift. Let me add a bit of information for you. The site separation distances are set in the rules. Those are the ones you want to see enforced. As I understand it, the site owner or operator has supposedly been given approval to build within the separation distance if an earthen berm is built between the site and the sinkholes.

To the best of my knowledge, the allowance for such an earthen berm is strictly a DNR “guideline” or “procedure”. This is not part of the rules. That much for sure. It has been our understanding (in this field office) that we have granted authority for such an earthen berm in very restricted and unusual situations (such as when someone built a confinement facility that didn’t meet the separation distances, supposedly due to ignorance and we were in a position of either allowing an alternative, i.e. the earthen berm, or require them to tear down the confinement). I have never heard of the DNR allowing the earthen berm option for a “new” facility that has not yet started construction. What’s the point of having site separation distances if we do that?

I am sharing this because the emails you have included seem to suggest that the earthen berm option is part of our regulations (it is not) and that it is a done deal (??).

Let me repeat, that to the best of my knowledge this is an unwritten procedure that the DNR has developed to deal with “sticky” situations and not part of our regulations. Now let me hastily say that my “off the top of my head” knowledge of our feedlot regs is not in the “expert” category, so it is possible that I am wrong, but I don’t think I am.

I (Bob Watson) talked with Wayne Gieselman about the meeting that the DNR had about the status of separation distances in karst topography.  The lawyers said that even though the separation distances were law, they were trumped by HF 2494 (or 2493) and there were effectively no separation distances to sinkholes in karst because of the ability of confinement operators to use the earthen berm option.  They also stated that if the DNR tried to enforce the separation distances and an operator took them to court, the DNR would lose.

So, we are left with the option of suing the State for the absurdity of what is not allowed in karst for storage because of sinkholes, namely an earthen structure, allowing a confinement to be built right next to a sinkhole if an earthen structure, a berm, is built around the building.  (end of DNR part)

What follows is the story of how the request for a variance by the Allamakee producers ended up affecting the minimum separation distances in the law:

Sinkholes, a major feature of karst topography, besides appearing out of the blue, are a direct conduit to underground streams, rivers, springs and aquifers (which are one of our public sources of clean drinking water).  Think of sinkholes as enablers of environmental disaster if there were a hog confinement pollution event close by.  Now, imagine our utter disbelief at finding out what the Iowa Legislature has done to the minimum separation distance laws in karst topography between hog confinements and sinkholes.

Whether through stupidity or sheer malice the Legislature has trumped the original separation distances thusly:

-“earthen structures” for manure storage at hog confinements (CAFO’s) are not allowed in karst topography because of sinkholes, so you must use an underground concrete pit beneath the building for manure storage.

-if your confinement site is too close to a sinkhole in karst (minimum separation distance-1000 feet), you simply can’t build it.

-unless(!) you put an “earthen structure” above the ground next to your building, and then you can build right next to a sinkhole in karst topography.

Huh?  The absurdities are:

-an “earthen structure” not allowed in karst because of sinkholes, can be used in karst to build right next to a sinkhole if you are too close to that sinkhole.

-an above ground berm will contain any spills from an underground tank.

Much to the consternation of DNR upper level management, when apprised of this situation and upon deciding to enforce the original separation distances, their lawyers told them that because of the way HF 2494 (or 2493) was written, they could not enforce those separation distances.  The lawyers said the DNR would lose any suit brought by an operator denied the berm option.  Effectively there are no longer any separation distances between hog confinements and sinkholes in karst topography.  THE MOST SENSITIVE GEOLOGIC AREA OF IOWA IS NOW THE LEAST PROTECTED FROM POLLUTION CAUSED BY UNTREATED MANURE SPILLED OR LEAKING FROM HOG CONFINEMENTS.  Make no mistake, there is no biological remediation available in aquifers if there is a pollution event, and OUR PUBLIC WATER IS AT RISK.

It gets even worse when the berm option is actually played out in construction.  The law for calculating how big an earthen berm (secondary containment) needs to be around a confinement building is:

“65.15(17)  Secondary containment barriers for manure storage structures.

Secondary containment barriers used to qualify any operation for the exemption provision in subrule 65.12(5) {the minimum separation distances-author} shall meet the following:

  1. A secondary containment barrier shall consist of a structure surrounding or downslope of a manure storage structure that is designed to contain 120 percent of the volume of manure stored above the manure storage structure’s final grade.  If the containment barrier does not surround the manure storage structure, upland drainage must be diverted.”

By law, the berm must contain 120% capacity of an above grade (above ground) storage structure.  Somehow in karst, not only have we lost minimum separation distance to sinkholes, but the berm calculation is based on above ground storage, which is not allowed in karst, and 120% has become 50%.  If you carry out the calculation, because there is no above grade storage to multiply out, the answer always turns out to be zero. Again, this is a clearly absurd situation.

What really happens is even more bizarre and Orwellian.  The concept of “secondary containment” originally comes from the EPA’s regulation of the petroleum industry.  As originally understood, secondary containment meant ‘an earthen berm completely surrounding a set of tanks, large enough to contain 150% of the contents of the largest tank’.  That is what anyone historically associated with secondary containment will tell you it means.  Somehow when this was translated to hog confinements in karst, secondary containment now means a pit dug on one side of a building.  How this above ground pit is supposed to contain a spill from an underground tank is unknown.  How any spill is supposed to happen on only that one side of the building is unknown.  And, how something illegal in karst for manure storage because of sinkholes, namely an earthen structure, allows you to build right next to a sinkhole in karst is unknown.

With the above Iowa law and the resultant absurd conditions they create, let me welcome you to the world of CAFO’s in karst topography.  It would be nice once in awhile if the DNR would make people sue them in order to win the right to pollute, instead of private citizens having to sue to try to stop pollution, or after a pollution event has already occurred.  It would be even better if the DNR would admit the absurdities brought about by the berm option being applied in karst, and just enforce the original separation distances.  Actually, because of the dangers posed, the DNR and the Iowa Legislature should simply outlaw any CAFO’s in karst topography.

These, in my opinion are legal aspects in this paper, and they have moral and ethical implications also:

  1. Neither workers nor neighbors are educated about or protected from the dangers posed by these industrial technologies.  The federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’ are the controlling laws in all other sectors of the US where these conditions exist except in agriculture.
  2. One sector, through pollution events and every day operation, makes the public source of drinking water and breathable air unusable for the rest of society.
  3. Laws have been passed that take away existing legal protections for people from these industrial technologies.

The wider moral and ethical question raised in this paper has to do with transferring inherently poisonous industrial technologies, which come from a regulated environment,  into the area of agriculture, which has no regulation. These technologies are regulated in the industrial sector because their inherent poisonous has long been recognized, and people who work with, or live around, these industrial technologies need to be protected from the poisons produced; hence, the regulations.

The specific moral and ethical dimensions discussed are:

Moral implications of using an inherently poisonous (petro-chemical/industrial) model of agriculture;

Ethical implications of using an inherently poisonous model of agriculture when benign models exist;

Ethical implications of transferring highly regulated industrial technologies into the unregulated (by law) area of agriculture;

Ethical implications of having no conversation on the use of these models in the national political arena where we make these choices;

Moral implications of having laws which lead directly to the poisoning of people resulting in disease and death;

Ethical implications of using laws to take away protections for people in the case of petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, when in every other sector of America where these conditions exist, laws protect people;

Ethical implications of laws which are internally absurd being used to deny protections both to people and the environment;

Moral implications of one sector of society taking away clean air and water for all other sectors (read people) through daily operation and pollution events.

So, this is the story of how the “minimum separation distances” between confinements and sinkholes has been lost in Iowa law.

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Sinkholes and hog confinements in karst topography.  (a talk)  2-27-05

Whatever cultural mythology our ancestors brought with them to this country which allowed them to herd the indigenous population they hadn’t killed into sacrifice areas has, ironically, come full circle and we are using it against our own people. Rural America has become a sacrifice area.

We live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison your neighbor, it is not illegal.

The specific geologic argument:

Sinkholes, a major feature of karst topography, besides appearing out of the blue, are a direct conduit to underground streams, rivers, springs and aquifers (which are one of our public sources of clean drinking water).  Think of sinkholes as enablers of environmental disaster if there were a hog confinement pollution event close by.  Now, imagine our utter disbelief at finding out what the Iowa Legislature has done to the minimum separation distance laws in karst topography between hog confinements and sinkholes.

Whether through stupidity or sheer malice the Legislature has trumped the original separation distances thusly:

-“earthen structures” for manure storage at hog confinements (CAFO’s) are not allowed in karst topography because of sinkholes, so you must use an underground concrete pit beneath the building for manure storage.

-if your confinement site is too close to a sinkhole in karst (minimum separation distance-1000 feet), you simply can’t build it.

-unless(!) you put an “earthen structure” above the ground next to your building, and then you can build right next to a sinkhole in karst topography.

Huh?  The absurdities are:

-an “earthen structure” not allowed in karst because of sinkholes, can be used in karst to build right next to a sinkhole if you are too close to that sinkhole.

-an above ground berm will contain any spills from an underground tank.

Much to the consternation of DNR upper level management, when apprised of this situation and upon deciding to enforce the original separation distances, their lawyers told them that because of the way HF 2494 (or 2493) was written, they could not enforce those separation distances.  The lawyers said the DNR would lose any suit brought by an operator denied the berm option.  Effectively there are no longer any separation distances between hog confinements and sinkholes in karst topography.  THE MOST SENSITIVE GEOLOGIC AREA OF IOWA IS NOW THE LEAST PROTECTED FROM POLLUTION CAUSED BY UNTREATED MANURE SPILLED OR LEAKING FROM HOG CONFINEMENTS.  Make no mistake, there is no biological remediation available in aquifers if there is a pollution event, and OUR PUBLIC WATER IS AT RISK.

It gets even worse when the berm option is actually played out in construction.  The law for calculating how big an earthen berm (secondary containment) needs to be around a confinement building is:

“65.15(17)  Secondary containment barriers for manure storage structures.

Secondary containment barriers used to qualify any operation for the exemption provision in subrule 65.12(5) {the minimum separation distances-author} shall meet the following:

  1. A secondary containment barrier shall consist of a structure surrounding or downslope of a manure storage structure that is designed to contain 120 percent of the volume of manure stored above the manure storage structure’s final grade.  If the containment barrier does not surround the manure storage structure, upland drainage must be diverted.”

By law, the berm must contain 120% capacity of an above grade (above ground) storage structure.  Somehow in karst, not only have we lost minimum separation distance to sinkholes, but the berm calculation is based on above ground storage, which is not allowed in karst, and 120% has become 50%.  If you carry out the calculation, because there is no above grade storage to multiply out, the answer always turns out to be zero. Again, this is a clearly absurd situation.

What really happens is even more bizarre and Orwellian.  The concept of “secondary containment” originally comes from the EPA’s regulation of the petroleum industry.  As originally understood, secondary containment meant ‘an earthen berm completely surrounding a set of tanks, large enough to contain 150% of the contents of the largest tank’.  That is what anyone historically associated with secondary containment will tell you it means.  Somehow when this was translated to hog confinements in karst, secondary containment now means a pit dug on one side of a building.  How this above ground pit is supposed to contain a spill from an underground tank is unknown.  How any spill is supposed to happen on only that one side of the building is unknown.  And, how something illegal in karst for manure storage because of sinkholes, namely an earthen structure, allows you to build right next to a sinkhole in karst is unknown.

Am I being Chicken Little crying that the sky is going to fall?  No.  If we know what has happened when we build waste storage in karst topography when no sinkholes are apparent (show pictures of lagoon sinkhole events), then why would we be so stupid as to risk ruining our public water by sighting waste storage right next to a known sinkhole?

The general ecologic argument:

Recognizing the larger ecological problem being that we have adopted industrial technologies for agricultural use, it is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate entities and some politicians as nothing more than what farming has always been.  Any defense of industrial agriculture, based on the notion that this is how agriculture has always operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have only recently been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture.  In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia which are constantly generated from untreated fecal waste both in the confinement and in the storage pit or lagoon.  We have people working in a hazardous workplace ignorant of the dangers because agriculture has been, by law, exempted from the regulations which would educate and protect them.  People in the neighborhoods of confinements are in a similar situation as they are repeatedly told this is only a nuisance and they do not have the protections from these poisons afforded all other citizens where similar circumstances exist.

I call your attention to the most recent studies on asthma in children where it was found that a shocking 55.8% of children living on a farm with a hog confinement had asthma.  And, to the recent measurements of ammonia haze in Iowa, where explanations of the sources of that ammonia conveniently left out the over 10,000 CAFO’s and open feedlots which constantly (24/7) spew ammonia into the atmosphere.  In pig-human equivalency only (without counting chickens, turkeys or cattle), it is like having 36 million Iowans shit in open trenches with no treatment required.  The ammonia haze in Iowa is truly a ‘haze of shit’.

There are hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of hog confinements on people and animals over the last 45 years.  Ironically, because some studies to set human limits for gases were done on pigs, we know that animals are susceptible to the same diseases from confinements as people.  There may be an argument by some about the “good science” of those studies, but there can be no argument about the government’s own studies culling hospital records, pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.  These are a direct result of the constant venting of those poison gasses into the neighborhood and the contamination of the sources of water.  Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning four times higher in Iowa in agriculture than in the wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from confinements becomes obvious.

In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c.  If hog confinements and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have untreated fecal waste in them, if that waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, if the causes of diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer pipe, then confinements and sewer pipes are the same. The difference is that the confinements don’t get their waste treated, there is no federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulation’ providing for education and training about a hazardous work place, there are no regulations protecting the public from them as there is anywhere else in America where fecal waste producing hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases exist in a closed structure.  People are essentially eating pork raised in a sewer, and neighbors of confinements are living next to an unregulated poison producing technology.

Author’s note:

The above gives you the specific argument with regard to the Bluffton South confinement site.  This is the site which is next to the 125 year old St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, and which was originally denied because it was too close to a sinkhole.  This specific geological argument also has general applications.  All of karst will be like this.

In addition to St Bridget’s and its cemetery being downslope and downwind of this confinement, there are further watershed issues.  The subsurface tiles, that drain the land to the east of the confinement site, surface and run into a creek on a neighbor’s land.  The confinement’s surrounding fields surface drainage also runs into that creek.  That creek is joined by another creek which has its beginning in Falcon Spring, reputed to be one of the most pristine springs left in Iowa.  That spring’s watershed, because of the 380 acres being used to apply manure from this confinement, will also be impacted.  Those creeks end up in the Upper Iowa River.

The three general argument paragraphs lay out the larger general ecological argument that “it is not just farming as usual that people are dealing with, but with the transference of industrial technology (specifically in the case of CAFO’s wastewater technology), unregulated into agriculture.”  That argument can be found in greater detail if you go to www.oneota.net/~watsoncampaign and click on chapter 6, public writings agriculture.  This is an important argument in that it gives a structure to understand generally all the particular community problems when a confinement moves into the neighborhood.  It becomes not an argument about farming, but about industrial processes and their resultant poisons and how the community is affected by them.

With the above Iowa law and the resultant absurd conditions they create, let me welcome you to the world of CAFO’s in karst topography.  It would be nice once in awhile if the DNR would make people sue them in order to win the right to pollute, instead of private citizens having to sue to try to stop pollution, or after a pollution event has already occurred.  It would be even better if the DNR would admit the absurdities brought about by the berm option being applied in karst, and just enforce the original separation distances.  Actually, because of the dangers posed, the DNR and the Iowa Legislature should simply outlaw any CAFO’s in karst topography.

In every sector of America where fecal waste, constantly generating the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, exists in a closed structure the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” are the controlling laws, except in agriculture.  It is my contention and belief that if the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” were applied to CAFO’s, as they should be, then, because of the conditions inside the confinement building, CAFO’s would not be allowed to be used in agriculture.  And, the environmental and health problems that CAFO’s now cause would cease to exist.  There are existing technologies available to raise chickens, turkeys, pigs and cattle besides CAFO’s and open feedlots; and wider use of those technologies would clean up our environment and coincidentally put many more farmers back on the land.  To make that happen is simply a matter of seeing the problems and solutions clearly, and political will.

These, in my opinion are legal aspects in this paper, and they have moral and ethical implications also:

  1. Neither workers nor neighbors are educated about or protected from the dangers posed by these industrial technologies.  The federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’ are the controlling laws in all other sectors of the US where these conditions exist except in agriculture.
  2. One sector, through pollution events and every day operation, makes the public source of drinking water and breathable air unusable for the rest of society.
  3. Laws have been passed that take away existing legal protections for people from these industrial technologies.

The wider moral and ethical question raised in this paper has to do with transferring inherently poisonous industrial technologies, which come from a regulated environment,  into the area of agriculture, which has no regulation. These technologies are regulated in the industrial sector because their inherent poisonous has long been recognized, and people who work with, or live around, these industrial technologies need to be protected from the poisons produced; hence, the regulations.

The specific moral and ethical dimensions discussed are:

Moral implications of using an inherently poisonous (petro-chemical/industrial) model of agriculture;

Ethical implications of using an inherently poisonous model of agriculture when benign models exist;

Ethical implications of transferring highly regulated industrial technologies into the unregulated (by law) area of agriculture;

Ethical implications of having no conversation on the use of these models in the national political arena where we make these choices;

Moral implications of having laws which lead directly to the poisoning of people resulting in disease and death;

Ethical implications of using laws to take away protections for people in the case petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, when in every other sector of America where these conditions exist, laws protect people;

Ethical implications of laws which are internally absurd being used to deny protections both to people and the environment;

Moral implications of one sector of society taking away clean air and water for all other sectors (read people) through daily operation and pollution events.

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Breached aquifer creates sinkhole at proposed industrial confinement site.(2005)

During site preparation for a Cottonballs LLC industrial broiler confinement site (#1) in Winneshiek County, the contractor doing the work breached an aquifer. This was done either when leveling off the tops of two hills to create room for two 60’ by 620’ buildings and the road around them, or when they were scraping away bedrock in the area in between where the buildings would be (down to rock that their equipment could no longer scrape through) for surface drainage.

The contractor admitted to Mike Meyer that the pollution in Mike’s never-before-polluted-spring was caused by his site work and that they attempted to repair the breached aquifer by putting dirt on it. Mike had tested his spring the week before and did so after it turned milky yellow and also took numerous pictures.

That this is now a manmade sinkhole is evident by the pollution which came out of the spring after a 1½” rain event at the construction site. This residential-use spring is on property owned by the Meyer’s since 1941 and no clouding has ever been observed until work was done to create the level areas for the confinement buildings, manure storage building and access road.

Even though local legislators passed legislation which effectively removed the “minimum separation distance between confinements and sinkholes” (by leaving out the three words “in another watershed” from a variance asked for by Allamakee pork producers) so that you can now build right next to a sinkhole, it is still illegal to build a confinement on top of a sinkhole. By creating this sinkhole, Cottonballs LLC has effectively made this site unusable for an industrial confinement.

All of the runoff from the buildings and the site will either end up in Mike Meyer’s spring (and the Yellow River) because of the sinkhole, and/or all of the surface runoff from this property (because of the topography) ends up running through the Meyer property into the Yellow River which is no more than 200 yards from the Meyer spring. This is not a farm next door, but rather an industrial confinement with 99,998 broilers in two buildings and a manure storage building which, because of topography and the sinkhole, will have all of the pollution runoff from rain events and their own water use going directly to the Meyer property and the Yellow River.

It seems at least strange that owners of a corporation which is in court because of continued pollution of the Yellow River, can be allowed, through a different corporation, to pollute that same river from another site without any DNR intervention.

We in Winneshiek County have a situation where the following conditions exist and we are told that Winneshiek County has no control over them and also that the state’s DNR has no control; surely that can’t be the case:

  1. An aquifer is compromised and altered through construction.
  2. A neighbor’s source of water is polluted through compromising an aquifer.
  3. An engineering report stating that a site contains sufficient soil depth to accommodate constructing “X” is subject to no more liability than stating “oops”.
  4. A “Storm Water Permit” being rendered meaningless if more than 1” of rain occurs in any rain event.
  5. Permission granted for construction of industrial confinements on the basis of meaningless promises laid out in numbers 3 and 4 above.
  6. Broiler confinement buildings with earthen floors being constructed virtually on porous bedrock after leveling off sites which, because of scale and the nature of fractured limestone, are unsuitable in karst topography.

The inappropriateness of industrial confinements in NE Iowa’s karst topography and geology, and the inappropriateness of industrial confinements in general where environmentally benign alternatives for raising livestock exist, has been voiced by many of us for many years.

Even if the IDNR thinks it has no basis in law to rectify this situation, there are both moral and ethical grounds on which to find a basis and to proceed:

Moral implications of using an inherently poisonous (petro-chemical/industrial) model of agriculture;

Ethical implications of using an inherently poisonous model of agriculture when benign models exist;

Ethical implications of transferring highly regulated industrial technologies into the unregulated (by law) area of agriculture;

Ethical implications of having no conversation on the use of these models in the national political arena where we make these choices;

Moral implications of having laws which lead directly to the poisoning of people and eco-systems resulting in disease and death;

Ethical implications of using laws to take away protections for people in the case of petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, when in every other sector of America where these conditions exist, laws protect people;

Ethical implications of laws which are internally absurd being used to deny protections both to people and the environment;

Moral implications of one sector of society taking away clean air and water for all other sectors (read people) through daily operation and pollution events.

The DNR must look into this situation where site preparation work breached the aquifer and created a sinkhole in the middle of and under the proposed buildings. According to Iowa law and the DNR’s own rules, by creating this sinkhole Cottonballs LLC has effectively made this site unusable for an industrial confinement.

Please notify me of any action taken in relation to this situation.

 

DNR visit to Meyer Spring and Site #1, Oct 12th. (2005)

Part of this was contained in the “breached aquifer” piece I emailed to you recently. This is the updated version with more recent events and also the visit on Oct 12th of three DNR people.

During site preparation for a Cottonballs LLC industrial broiler confinement site (#1) in Winneshiek County, the contractor doing the work breached an aquifer. This was done either when leveling off the tops of two hills to create room for two 60’ by 620’ buildings and the road around them, or when they were scraping away bedrock in the area in between where the buildings would be (down to rock that their equipment could no longer scrape through) for surface drainage. Or, at the north end where a culvert was put down on bedrock.

The contractor admitted to Mike Meyer that the pollution in Mike’s never-before-polluted-spring was caused by his site work and that they attempted to repair the breached aquifer by putting dirt on it. Mike had tested his spring the week before and did so after it turned milky yellow and also took numerous pictures.

That this is now a manmade sinkhole is evident by the pollution which came out of the spring after a 1½” rain event at the construction site. This residential-use spring is on property owned by the Meyer’s since 1941 and no clouding has ever been observed until work was done to create the level areas for the confinement buildings, manure storage building and access road and the trenches for culverts and drainage.

There have now been two rain/spring contamination events, both documented with pictures and the first with water tests. The second contamination event to the spring was mud colored water, presumably from the dirt the contractor said he put over the bedrock where he scraped other bedrock away. Incidentally, the test results from the Iowa Hygienic Lab comments stated the water was no longer safe for drinking and the springs’ aquifer must have been disturbed somehow and that disturbance should be discovered and corrected.

Clark Ott recently discovered ponding at the north end where the hill was scraped away for the culvert under the drive. It had not rained and so apparently we now had a “side hill spring” from the breached aquifer too. (Similar to a side hill spring at approximately the same elevation and 500’ away on the Meyer property.) Pictures were taken of this ponding.

I was in contact with an attendee of the 10th Annual Sinkhole conference, recently held in San Antonio, Texas. In response to my questions about this situation he commented to me: “A “human induced sinkhole” is a widely recognized phenomenon. At the 10th Sinkhole Conference in San Antonio, probably half of the papers dealt with human induced sinkholes. There is a long list of human activities that can induce sinkholes. At the top of that list are 1) water impondments, 2) construction activities, 3) alterations to the natural drainage, and 4) groundwater withdrawal through wells.” This validated for us that what we were describing was being taken seriously by the leading sinkhole researchers in the nation and gave us the correct terminology to converse with.

My request that someone from the DNR should check to see if the aquifer had been breached was initially sent on Sept 25th. The three people sent to check on the breach didn’t show up until Oct 12th. This time difference will become important later.

When the DNR people showed up we were pretty quickly informed that we didn’t know anything about what we were describing. They said that there was no way any sinkhole formation could have been caused by the construction. That the geology was not karst. That the claim that the grading caused the spring contamination was probably false and that we couldn’t prove it anyway. That a seep/spring could not have been formed and no ponding was observed (it had been covered with 5 loads of gravel two days prior to this visit, time lag above). That even if some sort of fractured limestone disturbance caused an opening to the spring the gravel/dirt would close it up. That the aquifer couldn’t be following the contours and have been breached causing a seep/spring and sink because none was observed (even though a side spring exists on the Meyer property 500’ away, mentioned above, and proves that the aquifer follows the contours). That no dye would be used to further investigate. That it was the responsibility of Mike Meyer to observe and test. That even though the DNR was apprised of this situation that they didn’t have any responsibility to follow-up after this visit. That there were any number of causes for the Meyer spring contamination including earthquakes in Alaska. That the confinement operator certainly wouldn’t do anything wrong. That the Sinkhole Conferences had nothing of interest which would cause Iowa to attend. That a sinkhole by definition couldn’t be manmade. That our karst is totally different than other karst and “we” are the experts. That someone studying karst ten miles away in Allamakee County could have nothing useful to say about this situation. That what has been the truth of that spring since 1941 is only hearsay. That this is essentially a “he said, she said” argument not provable by facts. That we should talk to our legislators. That no, the DNR did not need to err on the side of safety and halt construction of the confinement until this was finally resolved. That everything was being done according to regulations.

I think that pretty much sums it up!

Basically, Mike and I and our facts were brushed aside. We are not satisfied with this “visit”. Please discuss this among yourselves. We would appreciate your comments on this “visit” and what you might do to resolve this ongoing issue with the Meyer spring. (Site #2 across the road is now undergoing the same grading.)

 

Chicken CAFO Remarks to the Winneshiek County Supervisors (3-28-05).

Are we here today simply to argue about what a farmer can do on his land in this single case?  No.  Are the Supervisors here simply to listen to our concerns and then just recommend a course of action to the State (as is their claim), or are there legal steps they could take, and I would say is their duty to take, to protect the people of Winneshiek County?  Yes.

These, in my opinion are the legal aspects and they have moral and ethical implications also:

  1. Equal protection – in that neither workers nor neighbors are educated about or protected from the dangers posed by these industrial technologies.  The federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’ are the controlling laws in all other sectors of the US where these conditions exist except in agriculture.
  2. Takings – in that one sector, through pollution events and every day operation, makes the public source of drinking water and breathable air unusable for the rest of society.
  3. Constitutional Law – in that laws have been passed that take away existing legal protections for people from these industrial technologies.

What are we really talking about today?  What is the framework which allows and demands that our Supervisors take action to protect the health and lives of the residents, and their children, of Winneshiek County?  Listen.

Whatever cultural mythology our ancestors brought with them to this country which allowed them to herd the indigenous population they hadn’t killed into sacrifice areas has, ironically, come full circle and we are using it against our own people. Rural America has become a sacrifice area.

We live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison your neighbor, it is not illegal.

Recognizing the ecological problem being that we have adopted industrial technologies for agricultural use, it is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate entities and some politicians as nothing more than what farming has always been.  Any defense of industrial agriculture, based on the notion that this is how agriculture has always operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have only recently been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture.  In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia which are constantly generated from untreated fecal waste both in the confinement and in the storage pit or lagoon.  We have people working in a hazardous workplace ignorant of the dangers because agriculture has been, by law, exempted from the regulations which would educate and protect them.  People in the neighborhoods of confinements are in a similar situation as they are repeatedly told this is only a nuisance and they do not have the protections from these poisons afforded all other citizens where similar circumstances exist.

I call your attention to the most recent studies on asthma in children where it was found that a shocking 55.8% of children living on a farm with a confinement had asthma.  Also, because of proximity to a confinement, we can safely assume many neighbor children are similarly affected.  Because of the solid nature on chicken manure, there is less hydrogen-sulfide created but more ammonia.  Because of that greater concentration of ammonia along with the addition of all the dust and dander coming from chicken CAFO’s, we can assume the percentage of children, workers and neighbors with asthma and other respitory related illnesses will most likely be higher than the already observed 55.8%.  And I call your attention to the recent measurements of ammonia haze in Iowa, where explanations of the sources of that ammonia conveniently left out the over 10,000 CAFO’s and open feedlots which constantly (24/7) spew ammonia into the atmosphere.  In pig-human equivalency only (without counting chickens, turkeys or cattle), it is like having 36 million Iowans shit in open trenches with no treatment required.  The ammonia haze in Iowa is truly a ‘haze of shit’.

There are hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of confinements on people and animals over the last 45 years.  Ironically, because some studies to set human limits for gases were done on pigs, we know that animals are susceptible to the same diseases from confinements as people.  There may be an argument by some about the “good science” of those studies, but there can be no argument about the government’s own studies culling hospital records, pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.  These are a direct result of the constant venting of those poison gasses into the neighborhood and the contamination of the sources of water.  Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning four times higher in Iowa in agriculture than in the wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from confinements becomes obvious.

With world health officials warning us about new pandemics, the rather frightening link between chicken confinements and antibiotic resistance needs to be brought to our attention.  I quote:

“The Antibiotic Fox in the Henhouse

By Maia Weinstock

DISCOVER Vol. 25 No. 08 | August 2004 | Biology & Medicine

Scientists have long known that waste beds of commercial chicken houses abound with potentially dangerous bacteria. But in April a team led by microbiologist Anne Summers of the University of Georgia reported that the beds are also littered with integrons, genes that can render those bacteria impervious to several antibiotics at once, making them nearly impossible to kill.

For 13 weeks, Summers and her colleagues sampled feces, skin, feathers, and other organic material from two major commercial chicken houses in Georgia. The scientists discovered high numbers of integrons not only in bacteria such as Escherichia coli and salmonella but also in germs that were previously assumed to be free of the resistance-forming genes, such as staphylococci. The result suggests that integrons are much more common, both in animals and the humans who handle them, than previously thought.

Microbiologists believe that integrons have existed for eons but took on their current role only after the development of the first antibiotics, which gave an advantage to microbes that could collect the resistance genes. These gene snippets spread when their bacterial hosts reproduce or acquire them from nearby dead cells. Moreover, integrons travel easily between humans, pets, livestock, and their wastes via bacteria that are inhaled or eaten. “We continually ingest bacteria from uncooked food, from our pets, from intimate behavior with other humans, and from putting our unwashed hands into our noses or mouths,” Summers says. “This is a warning bell.” It explains why antibiotic resistance spreads so quickly and extensively after drugs are introduced.”  End Quote.  It takes six weeks for these bugs to make their way into the bodies of the workers and neighbors in and around these confinements, possibly leaving them with no way to fight diseases normally treatable with antibiotics.

Although Agri-Processors is probably butchering birds correctly in their Kosher process, the way these birds would be raised, if they are raised in confinement, would be poisoning our children.  I’m not sure that is the intent of the Kosher process; nor do I think that would be the wish of the consumers of those kosher birds if they knew about it.

In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c.  If confinements and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have untreated fecal waste in them, if that waste constantly generates the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, if the causes of diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either a confinement or a sewer pipe, then confinements and sewer pipes are the same. The difference is that the confinements don’t get their waste treated, there is no federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulation’ providing for education and training about a hazardous work place, there are no regulations protecting the public from them as there is anywhere else in America where fecal waste producing hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases exist in a closed structure.  People are essentially eating meat raised in a sewer, and neighbors of confinements are living next to an unregulated poison producing technology.

The previous paragraphs lay out the ecological argument that “it is not just farming as usual that people are dealing with, but with the transference of industrial technology (specifically in the case of CAFO’s wastewater technology), unregulated into agriculture.”  That argument can be found in greater detail if you go to www.oneota.net/~watsoncampaign and click on chapter 6, public writings agriculture.  This is an important argument in that it gives a structure to understand generally all the particular community problems when a confinement moves into the neighborhood.  It becomes not an argument about farming, but about industrial processes and their resultant poisons and how the community is affected by them.

In every sector of America where fecal waste, constantly generating the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, exists in a closed structure the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” are the controlling laws, except in agriculture.  It is my contention and belief that if the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” were applied to CAFO’s, as they should be, then, because of the conditions inside the confinement building, CAFO’s would not be allowed to be used in agriculture.  And, the environmental and human health problems that CAFO’s now cause would cease to exist.  There are existing technologies available to raise chickens, turkeys, pigs and cattle besides CAFO’s and open feedlots; and wider use of those technologies would clean up our environment and coincidentally put many more farmers back on the land.  To make that happen is simply a matter of seeing the problems and solutions clearly, and political will.

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County should adopt these laws. (5-11-05)

Other counties created their own regulations, which I never agreed with and which as we see didn’t work.  We are only asking you to adopt laws and regulations that already exist.  So, today we are asking the Supervisors to have the County Attorney look into the County adopting by reference the Federal and State laws and regulations, including EPA and OSHA regulations that apply to these agricultural/industrial activities and their resultant pollutants.

I will use the categories laid out in Steve McCargar’s letter from last week.

-What levels of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane (in parts per million) can be expected to contaminate the air breathed by employees and immediate neighbors of these proposed facilities?  Do those levels exceed the federal standards for those pollutants in confined spaces?

~Even though no laws exist for CAFO’s to control their poison gas discharges, laws exist which make CAFO’s responsible for monitoring and reporting to the EPA those discharges.  This planned chicken confinement facility (Winneshiek County) will be above the threshold which requires EPA notification of ammonia discharges (CERCLA provision of Superfund: Community Right to Know).

The threshold for EPA notification of ammonia discharge of 100 lbs/day is reached by a facility when there are approximately 35,000 broilers in a building.  This proposal, now at 4 buildings and going to 13, will have 49,999 broilers in each building.  Thus, monitoring equipment per EPA regulations will need to be installed on site and the EPA will need to be contacted each day that the facility discharges more than 100 lbs of ammonia into the atmosphere.

Therefore, we request the county adopt the Superfund’s CERCLA provisions.

~The federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” can be enforced by OSHA through their “General Duty Clause”.  This clause comes into effect if a serious hazard is identified.  Since we know that over 20 Iowans have been killed from poison gasses in CAFO’s, and that many studies show serious health effects to people from the emission of gasses, the latest of which is the U. of Iowa study showing 55.8% of children on farms with CAFO’s have asthma, these “recognized hazards” trigger OSHA’s “general duty clause” and allow OSHA to regulated these confinements.  We ask the County to adopt OSHA’s Confined Spaces Regulations and General Duty Clause.

-What health risks (including antibiotic resistance, incidence of asthma, other respiratory illnesses and avian flu potential) could develop if these units are built?

~Again I sight, among many other studies, the most recent study on children and asthma and CAFO’s by Dr. James A. Merchant, College of Public Health, and U. of Iowa, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.  Because of the solid nature of chicken manure, greater concentrations of ammonia exist, and we can reasonably assume even more than the study observed 55.8% of children around these sites will get asthma.

-Why is there no definitive manure management plan as required by law for confinement operations of this type?

~Contrary to belief, there is no actual law that exists that says if a CAFO sells its manure no Manure Management Plan is needed.  This is an unwritten policy only.  We request the County adopt and enforce the existing written law for the requirement of a yearly Manure Management Plan for CAFO’s which is in Senate File 2293.

-What is the proximity of each complex to known sinkholes or losing streams?

~Iowa Code Chapter 459 part 202 lays out the separation distances for CAFO’s.  Interestingly, the only discretion mentioned in relation to sinkholes is that the DNR may increase the minimum separation distance to sinkholes from 1000 feet to 2000 feet.  The law that has recently been sighted to allow 0 feet between CAFO’s and sinkholes has never had rules written for it.  And, the calculations used to figure how big a secondary containment needs to be to build next to a sinkhole in karst, always gives zero for an answer, therefore being absurd and unusable.  We request the County adopt Chapter 459 part 202 and enforce the separation distances.

-What emergency plans exist in the event of catastrophic infrastructure failure such as loss of heat, electricity or water?

~The State of Iowa only has rules in place for statewide episodes of catastrophic diseases such as hoof and mouth.  There are no provisions in the law that pertain to individual CAFO’s if they have large numbers of dead animals through infrastructure failure.  We ask the County to ask the State to come up with provisions the County can adopt and to deny any CAFO until those rules are adopted.

We have given you, and ask you to act on, the ability to protect all of the citizens of this county as well as the county itself.

 

Willing Partners (2005)

There were three willing partners, “Friends of Winneshiek”, Agriprocessors, and the Clayton County Amish community, who took part in an effort to look at raising chickens for the local kosher processing plant. Because of market forces supposedly beyond our control and Agri’s economy of scale for raising birds (based on 49,999 birds per building, which they would not negotiate), those talks ended with no agreements reached.

It was hoped that chickens could be raised by the Amish on their farms in lots of 10,000 or less, which they currently do for other markets. It was envisioned that the production would simply be a part of their ongoing farming operations, small enough in scale that all byproducts would be incorporated into normal farming systems, and completely used in a safe and sustainable way. The money offered to the Amish was less than half of what they needed (and were already making on raising birds) to even begin the conversation, and so sadly, those talks ended.

Contrary to some people’s information, “Friends of Winneshiek” has nothing to do with the Rubashkins “Family Farms Poultry Program”. In fact, “Friends of Winneshiek” originally formed to oppose any chicken confinements in Winneshiek County of the scale being proposed by the Rubashkins. To that end, “Friends of Winneshiek” has helped a group of neighbors, who would be impacted by those confinements being built next to them in the Frankville and Castalia areas, raise enough money to retain a lawyer who specializes in “anticipatory nuisance” suits. That legal process is underway and “Friends of Winneshiek” is again raising money for that legal fight.

“Friends of Winneshiek” has always envisioned those legal proceedings including any other neighbors in Winneshiek County who find out that a chicken confinement is being proposed for property next to them. The money raising is ongoing and if you think you may be impacted in the future, contact “Friends of Winneshiek”.

 

Ethanol Studies (7-25-05)

Starting out with a conclusion and working backwards in order to justify it may get you what you want on paper, but breaking a causal chain is intellectually dishonest and, in the case of the Gazette, a disservice to your readers.

The causal chain is growing corn inside the petro-chemical/industrial model of agriculture for conversion to ethanol. The processing cannot happen without the growing. The BTU’s that the growing takes must be counted. One cannot simply break the causal chain in a place that is convenient for whatever answer you want to come up with. Also, any environmental pollution from that process (chemical pollution to soil, air and water; unsustainable soil erosion leading eventually to no soil left) must be counted towards the overall sustainability and renewable-ness of the endeavor.

Cellulose for conversion to ethanol may eventually be grown inside a sustainable and clean model of agriculture. If processed from perennial (switchgrass) or cover crops (hemp) which need no fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides, we may even be able to say, someday, that that conversion is renewable.

 

IWPCA-Environmental Obstructionists? (6-28-05)

Is the IWPCA an environmental obstructionist organization as was implied by the Des Moines Register’s lead editorial on cleaning up Iowa’s environment? I argued, in a letter defending the organization, “If there is a tension in the IWPCA, it is not between pro and anti environment, but rather between those who see it as their responsibility to make sure the cities and towns they represent are not made to shoulder more of the burden of treatment than is stipulated in law, and those who would push all concerned to do whatever is possible with the technology available today regardless of the burden of responsibility.” But, with the interpretation and use of the H2S research funded by the IWPCA, I can see where an obstructionist charge might come from.

In an email to Steve Jones I stated, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the study was funded because the IWPCA was worried that the lower numbers, “30 PPB”, being considered for agricultural areas, would also impact WWTP’s and present problems meeting those limits.  If I am correct, how does studying only one of those areas, WWTP’s, say anything about what happens in agriculture?

The agriculture target number, 30 PPB, is skewed because, unlike the WWTP study, no H2S measurements have been allowed to be taken inside CAFO’s nor at their constantly running exhaust vents.

25 people have been killed from H2S poisoning in agriculture in Iowa during the same time we have lost only 5 in wastewater H2S accidents.  Literally hundreds of thousands of pigs have been lost from H2S in the same time frame.  If there is no danger supported from the research at WWTP H2S levels, as you stated at the annual meeting, and my reading of the report doesn’t come to that conclusion, why have 5 times as many people been killed in agriculture from H2S?  Could it be the testing is not being conducted correctly, or at, or in, the right places in agriculture? Could it be that there is no education or regulations in place in agriculture?

My point is that the research is apples to oranges (or even apples to nothing), and one cannot say anything about agriculture from the wastewater findings.  I think it is inappropriate to use this study to argue against the DNR trying (however ineffectively) to protect the people who live around, and work in, industrial confinements.  Further, until there is proper testing done on CAFO environments, and on those people who live around them (actually there are many studies in the literature), the IWPCA would be better served pointing out the inadequacy of studies, regulations, education and protections from poisons from CAFO’s and open feedlots, rather than looking like we are trying to say there is no danger posed.”

This last paragraph explains how the IWPCA could get an obstructionist label. In defending against what may happen to us in the future, we leave out very real human problems which exist because our wastewater technology has been transferred from our highly regulated environment to the unregulated area of agriculture. We should, instead, use our expertise in this technology and its affects on people, to inform those who are facing very real health problems and deaths from H2S, and also to inform those who should be regulating this technology in agriculture. No one could then claim, even in ignorance, that we were environmental obstructionists.

My criticism of the Research Committee’s interpretation of the H2S study has been both cautioned and informed, lest I be considered too strident instead of constructive, by Jim Stricker thusly,

“I would make two points.

First:  The IWPCA is an organization of experts in the water environment field.  While some have some expertise in air quality, I would not include myself in that characterization.  There are differences between hog confinements and sewage treatment plants to be sure.  I would be reluctant to attempt linkage between studies for sewage treatment plants and those relating to hog confinements.

Second:  My view of the IWPCA has consistently been, not that they are anti-environment, but rather, because of their technical expertise, have a more realistic view of what priorities we should be focusing on with our limited national, state and local resources in order to make the greatest impact, improving Iowa’s water quality.

Even where the IWPCA is resisting new initiatives or standards, I view this not as being opposed to improving our water quality, but rather a realistic view of what we can do with limited resources and how we can best use those resources to provide the greatest improvement.  Trying to establish realistic priorities is a far different matter than favoring economic impact over the environment.”

In closing let me state the IWPCA is a large and varied organization.  At some point though, we must figure out how to vet our public stances to best reflect what we as an organization are really trying to say.

 

Measuring gasses in agriculture. (6-26-05)

In the wastewater industry we have to test structures before we enter them if we know, or assume, the poisonous gasses hydrogen-sulfide or ammonia may be present.  Those structures: manholes, pump stations, certain areas in Wastewater Treatment Plants, etc., are called confined spaces and come under the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations”.  Because of years of experience with the negative health effects and human deaths from hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, confined spaces are highly regulated and the people who work in them are highly educated.  Through that regulation and education, those workers and the people who live around these structures are provided protection.

Industrial confinements, CAFO’s, are that same wastewater technology transferred into agriculture.  They are the same technology in that both are closed structures containing untreated fecal waste producing the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.  Both must be constantly ventilated if people or pigs are to be inside them and the diseases and deaths from each are the same.  They are different in that none of the regulations, education or protections has followed that technology into agriculture.

It is a fact that 25 Iowans have died in the agricultural sector from hydrogen-sulfide asphyxiation while, in the same time frame, we have lost only 5 in wastewater. The James Merchant (U of Iowa) study shows 55.8% of children living on farms with CAFO’s have asthma as a direct result of living next to that CAFO. We know that much of the giant Midwest ammonia plume comes directly from Iowa’s 10,000 CAFO’s and open feedlots.

Isn’t it about time to quit lying about what industrial agriculture is doing to us and our children?  The Gazette article, “Study: Ammonia from Iowa swine farm exceeds some EPA regulations”, contained this statement, “Gas emissions from an Iowa swine finishing farm were ‘nowhere close’ to violating the Clean Air Act…”  If this statement is accurate, how do we account for 5 times as many deaths from hog confinement events as from wastewater events?

In wastewater we check for hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia at the opening of, or inside, the structure.  In agriculture, we go some considerable distance from those structures out into the open country to measure instead of measuring at their constantly running exhaust vents or inside.  That is not exactly apples to apples, and it allows for some pretty strange statements of fact.

Until we treat industrial technology the same in agriculture as we do in the industrial sectors where they came from, we will continue to needlessly kill our people and condemn our children to lives filled with sickness.

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Response to the Register’s environmental editorial. (5-24-05)

“The Register believes a clean environment is essential to progress and prosperity in Iowa.” (Sundays’ Registers’ lead editorial.)

Ignorance of Iowa’s environmental problems’ historical antecedents, its current makeup, the players, and their respective positions, didn’t take long to manifest itself in the editorial.

In that it is a given by all concerned that 95% of Iowa’s pollution is agricultural in origin, it is at least curious that a couple of days prior to the Sunday editorial, Patty Judge had a column, whose main point seemed to be that even though the model of agriculture she defended would ultimately cause the loss of all of our soil, we were at least losing soil a little slower recently, went completely unchallenged by the Register. That industrial model of agriculture, because in it food is considered a widget and therefore subject to market forces and trade agreements instead of being considered a fundamental necessity for human life which we need to and have a right to control for our very survival, is both immoral and unethical. Immoral in that it is inherently poisonous, and all the “good science” shows that. The most recent study on asthma in children living on farms with confinements (U of I, James Merchant) shows that 55.8% of those children have asthma as a direct result of living on those farms. And, unethical in that there are other models of agriculture (not inherently poisonous) we could just as easily be using which are benign to both people and the environment. In fact, those other models build rather than lose soil, and put more people back in rural Iowa.

The IWPCA (Iowa Water Pollution Control Association) is a volunteer organization made up of many of the individuals in the state whose profession it is to treat our wastewater. If there is a tension in the IWPCA, it is not between pro and anti environment, but rather between those who see it as their responsibility to make sure the cities and towns they represent are not made to shoulder more of the burden of treatment than is stipulated in law, and those who would push all concerned to do whatever is possible with the technology available today regardless of the burden of responsibility. It is well known within the IWPCA that an engineer can create systems to treat to whatever levels of discharge you want, you just need to give them those levels in law and the requisite money to pay for it.

It is interesting that the IWPCA’s current president, Carla Schumacher, was painted (along with the organization) as some sort of an environmental obstructionist. Carla is the president of the IWPCA in part because of her tireless work, both professionally as an engineer and personally, on behalf of the environment, not in spite of it. Any cursory fact gathering of the educational and informational programs currently up and running in Iowa about keeping the Iowa environment clean and healthy for all, would surely discover Carla’s efforts. And, in talking with Carla about this Register editorial, she indicated surprise after reading the editorial because the answer she gave would have been different if she had been told the context within which it was being asked. Sloppy reporting, just ignorance, or is there some preconceived agenda held by the Register which the facts need to be made to conform to? Have the Register’s editors swallowed something hook, line and sinker?

There was a time in newspapers that familiarity with a subject was the accepted way of doing business. Iowa’s environment, the people and organizations involved in keeping it clean, and the public should expect no less today. Information is no good if it is wrong, and the Register should be very careful about what is portrayed as truth in the continuing series on the environment.

 

Biotech Alliance (Feb 2005)

“Persuading Iowa lawmakers to pump millions of dollars into Iowa’s burgeoning biotechnology economy will take a full-court press…” (Biotech alliance looks to future- Des Moines Register 1-12-05). “…but the Biosciences Alliance has not yet outlined its strategy for accelerating what is called technology transfer…”; “…said the alliance must explain to lawmakers the potential risks and rewards of investing in the emerging biotech industry.” “Leaders of the alliance…said the group needs to push hard for state funding this year by the Legislature.”

From out here in rural Iowa it looks and sounds like a typical corporate-sponsored ‘money transfer’. The usual shakedown of millions of our tax dollars by investors who don’t want to risk their own money.

Are there existing alternatives to stimulate Iowa’s economy, and keep Iowans’ money in the state, which take thousands of dollars of investment instead of millions? Sure.

From only a few thousand dollars invested in the “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” campaign, participating farmers in NE Iowa had these results: “more than a quarter of the farmers registered a 1-to-5 percent gain in sales; another quarter increased sales 6-to-10 percent; twenty-eight percent of the farmers had increased sales from 11 to more than 20 percent.” (Center for Rural Affairs Newsletter, Jan 05)

This Practical Farmers of Iowa program now has a central Iowa coordinator, John Norwood. In the Newsletter he says, “If this urban-rural partnership can persuade local consumers and businesses to purchase just five percent of their food from local producers, that would translate to $70 million in annual reinvestments to our local economy.”

Multiply that out to a successful 100 percent and you have $1.4 billion being paid to local farmers by local Iowans just in central Iowa, and all for an investment of just a few thousands of dollars instead of millions. No shakedown. No transfer. Just Iowa farmers raising good food for other Iowans.

 

Geologic within Ecologic Argument (11-22-04)

The specific geologic argument:

Sinkholes, a major feature of karst topography, besides appearing out of the blue, are a direct conduit to underground streams, rivers, springs and aquifers (which are our public source of clean drinking water). Think of sinkholes as enablers of environmental disaster if there were a hog confinement pollution event close by. Now, imagine our utter disbelief at finding out what the Iowa Legislature has done to the minimum separation distance laws in karst topography between hog confinements and sinkholes.

Whether through stupidity or sheer malice the Legislature has trumped the original separation distances thusly:

-“earthen structures” for manure storage at hog confinements (CAFO’s) are not allowed in karst topography because of sinkholes, so you must use an underground concrete pit beneath the building for manure storage.
-if your confinement site is too close to a sinkhole in karst (minimum separation distance), you simply can’t build it.
-unless(!) you put an “earthen structure” above the ground around your building, and then you can build right next to a sinkhole in karst topography.

Huh? The absurdities are:

-an “earthen structure” not allowed in karst because of sinkholes, can be used in karst to build right next to a sinkhole if you are too close to that sinkhole.
-an above ground berm will contain any spills from an underground tank.

Much to the consternation of DNR upper level management, when apprised of this situation and upon deciding to enforce the original separation distances, their lawyers told them that because of the way HF 2494 was written, they could not enforce those separation distances. The lawyers said the DNR would lose any suit brought by an operator denied the berm option. Effectively there are no longer any separation distances between hog confinements and sinkholes in karst topography. THE MOST SENSITIVE GEOLOGIC AREA OF IOWA IS NOW THE LEAST PROTECTED FROM POLLUTION CAUSED BY UNTREATED MANURE SPILLED OR LEAKING FROM HOG CONFINEMENTS. Make no mistake, there is no biological remediation available in aquifers if there is a pollution event, and OUR PUBLIC WATER IS AT RISK.
It gets even worse when the berm option is actually played out in construction. The law for calculating how big an earthen berm (secondary containment) needs to be around a confinement building is:

“65.15(17) Secondary containment barriers for manure storage structures.Secondary containment barriers used to qualify any operation for the exemption provision in subrule 65.12(5) {the minimum separation distances-author} shall meet the following:

  1. A secondary containment barrier shall consist of a structure surrounding or downslope of a manure storage structure that is designed to contain 120 percent of the volume of manure stored above the manure storage structure’s final grade. If the containment barrier does not surround the manure storage structure, upland drainage must be diverted.”

By law, the berm must contain 120% capacity of an above grade (above ground) storage structure. Somehow in karst, not only have we lost minimum separation distance to sinkholes, but the berm calculation is based on above ground storage, which is not allowed in karst, and 120% has become 50%. If you carry out the calculation, because there is no above grade storage to multiply out, the answer always turns out to be zero. Again, this is a clearly absurd situation.

With the above Iowa law and the resultant absurd conditions they create, let me welcome you to the world of CAFO’s in karst topography. It would be nice once in awhile if the DNR would make people sue them in order to win the right to pollute, instead of private citizens having to sue to try to stop pollution, or after a pollution event has already occurred. It would be even better if the DNR would admit the absurdities brought about by the berm option being applied in karst, and just enforce the original separation distances. Actually, because of the dangers posed, the DNR and the Iowa Legislature should simply outlaw any CAFO’s in karst topography.

The general ecologic argument:

Recognizing the larger ecological problem being that we have adopted industrial technologies for agricultural use, it is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate entities and some politicians as nothing more that what farming has always been. Any defense of industrial agriculture, based on how agriculture operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture. In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia which are constantly generated from untreated fecal waste both in the confinement and in the storage pit or lagoon. We have people working in a hazardous workplace ignorant of the dangers because agriculture has been, by law, exempted from the regulations which would educate and protect them. People in the neighborhoods of confinements are in a similar situation as they are repeatedly told this is only a nuisance and do not have the protections from these poisons afforded all other citizens where similar circumstances exist.

There are hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of hog confinements on people and animals over the last 45 years. Ironically, because some studies to set human limits for gases were done on pigs, we know that animals are susceptible to the same diseases from confinements as people. There may be an argument about the science of those studies, but there can be no argument about the government’s own studies culling hospital records, pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These are a direct result of the constant venting of those poison gasses into the neighborhood and the contamination of the sources of water. Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide four times higher in Iowa in agriculture than in the wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from confinements becomes obvious.

In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c. If hog confinements and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have untreated fecal waste in them generating the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia (and the 140 other toxic chemicals that are created in the waste because it is stored and not composted), if the diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either of them, then confinements and sewer pipes are the same. People are essentially eating pork raised in a sewer, and neighbors of confinements are living next to an unregulated poison producing technology.

Author’s note:

The above gives you the specific argument with regard to the Bluffton South confinement site. This is the site which is next to the 125 year old St. Bridget’s Catholic Church, and which was originally denied because it was too close to the sinkhole. This specific geological argument also has general applications. All of karst will be like this.

In addition to St Bridget’s and its cemetery being downslope and downwind of this confinement, there are further watershed issues. The subsurface tiles, that drain the land to the east of the confinement site, surface and run into a creek on a neighbor’s land. The confinement’s surrounding fields surface drainage also runs into that creek. That creek is joined by another creek which has its beginning in Falcon Spring, reputed to be one of the most pristine springs left in Iowa. That spring’s watershed, because of the 380 acres being used to apply manure from this confinement, will also be impacted. Those creeks end up in the Upper Iowa River.

The three general argument paragraphs lay out the larger general ecological argument that it is not just farming as usual that people are dealing with, but with the transference of industrial technology, unregulated into agriculture. That argument can be found in greater detail if you go to www.oneota.net/~watsoncampaign and click on chapter 6, public writings agriculture. This is an important argument in that it gives a structure to understand generally all the particular community problems when a confinement moves into the neighborhood. It becomes not an argument about farming, but about industrial processes and their resultant poisons and how the community is affected by them.

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Empathy (10-12-04)

Dear Editor,

We don’t need your sympathy or your intellectual understanding. In regard to hog confinements and what they are doing to rural Iowa, we rural Iowans need you urban Iowans’ empathy.

Since it has been shown that hog confinements and sewer pipes are the same thing (both are closed structures with untreated fecal waste in the bottom constantly generating the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, both must be vented for humans or pigs to be inside them, the diseases and causes of deaths from them are the same; the difference is that the confinements don’t get their waste treated, there is no federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulation’ providing for education and training about a hazardous work place, there are no regulations protecting the public from them as there is anywhere else in America where fecal waste producing hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases exist in a closed structure, and meat you eat is raised in the confinements), what we need you urban people to do is to take all the manhole covers off the sewers in your cities and put blowers in your sewer pipes so that the poison gasses hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia are constantly blown up into your neighborhoods. If you did that for a few months you would have empathy for those in rural Iowa who have to live with hog confinements, and we would probably get legislation outlawing industrial confinements use in agriculture pretty quickly.

It is a shame that petro-chemical/industrial agriculture is portrayed by corporate entities as nothing more that what farming has always been. We get the simplistic slogan “pigs have always smelled” when the governments’ own studies culling hospital records, pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community, show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These illnesses are a direct result of the constant venting of those poison gasses into the neighborhood and the contamination of the sources of water. Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide four times higher in Iowa in agriculture than in the wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from industrial confinements becomes obvious. So much for “pigs have always smelled”.

Take your manhole covers off and empathize with us for awhile. We need protection from these poisons and you might begin to understand what it means to be responsible for the way your food is raised. We live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison your neighbor, it is not illegal!


[To the editor of the Oneota Community Cooperative Scoop]

Dear Liz (editor),

Although I was happy to see the Co-op’s quick response in notifying members about the hog confinement quandary, I thought the use of ICCI’s materials unfortunate.

ICCI’s position on hog confinements is that the industrial technology used in confinements is okay, it’s just not okay to let the big guys use it. That is the same as saying DDT is okay as long as only family farmers use it.

Confinement technology is inherently poisonous and those poisons are continuously vented into the neighborhood sickening anyone unfortunate enough to be close by. The production of poisons from confinement technology has nothing to do with the size of the operation or building. Confinement technology is borrowed from the wastewater industry. It is a short sewer pipe and nothing else. Let me be blunt; if there is one turd in a sewer pipe it is still a sewer pipe. If there is one hog in a hog confinement, it still produces poison sewer gasses.

There is no technological fix that will make confinement technology safe. There is no magic size that makes it safe for neighbors. Only by understanding that this industrial technology is inappropriate for raising food and calling for it’s banishment from agriculture, will neighbors and the environment be healthy and safe.

ICCI’s position on hog confinements is counter productive. It would result in many small confinements in many neighborhoods. I don’t think that is a result that the Co-op would say would be good for its members.

 

Supervisors Meeting (8-2-04)
Bluffton area hog confinements

My name is Bob Watson. I am employed in the wastewater industry. I have worked for companies in the collection area (sewer pipes), land application of manure and bio-solids, and treatment. I work with municipal, industrial and agricultural entities. I have also been around hogs for 56 years. This gives me a unique perspective on the transition from farming to what now passes for farming, namely petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, especially as it pertains to CAFO’s or in this case specifically hog confinements.

We live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison your neighbor, it is not illegal.

Because corporations and land grant universities, such as Iowa State, wholeheartedly embraced the transference of industrial technologies to certain sectors of agriculture, family farmers are once again caught in a dilemma not of their own design. We have unwittingly loosed an environmental disaster upon ourselves. We have inadvertently adopted parts of the sewer industry’s technology for our hog confinement systems without the federally required safeguards or the end sewage treatment process. We have taken a system used to transport raw sewage and inappropriately adopted it to raise meat for human consumption.

Iowa used to be a land that naturally filtered water, making it pristine, healthy and safe for people to use and drink. Because of the introduction of petro-chemical/industrial agriculture, including using hog confinement systems, Iowa alone now contributes a full 23% of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico through agricultural and industrial runoff from our rivers and streams.

There are hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of hog confinements on people and animals over the last 45 years. Ironically, because some studies to set human limits for gases were done on pigs, we know that animals are susceptible to the same diseases from confinements as people. There may be an argument about the science of those studies, but there can be no argument about the government’s own studies culling hospital records, pre- and post-confinement introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. These are a direct result of the constant venting of those poison gasses into the neighborhood and the contamination of the sources of water. Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide four times higher in Iowa in agriculture than in the wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from confinements becomes obvious.

In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c. If hog confinements and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have untreated fecal waste in them generating the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia (and the 140 other toxic chemicals that are created in the waste because it is stored and not composted), if the diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either of them, then confinements and sewer pipes are the same. People are essentially eating pork raised in a sewer, and neighbors of confinements are living next to an unregulated poison producing technology.

In contrast to this technology, a byproduct of raising hogs in a traditional setting, and in modern deep-bed hoophouse set-ups, is a safe compostable and composted manure which when applied to fields greatly enhances soil nutrients and helps build and maintain healthy humus.

In every sector in America where these confinement conditions exist, except in agriculture, the controlling laws are the federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’. Since these federal laws already exist, the Iowa DNR and our local Board of Supervisors, through the Home Health and Safety Statutes, need only adopt them to protect people in the agricultural/rural sector in Iowa. Do not let the Supervisors tell you there is nothing that they can do about this set of confinements, or the under the radar confinement being proposed by Brad Herman south of Bluffton, because that is not true. The Supervisors could stop these if they actually wanted to.

Finally, I wish to appeal directly to Bill Yanke. I understand you are well off and don’t need this operation for any financial reasons. I imagine someone thought this would be a good investment for you. You have listened to the environmental and ecological concerns. You have listened to the people in the neighborhood ask that you not subject them to this life altering technology. And hopefully, I have been able to show you how confinement technology really has nothing to do with farming and everything to do with death and disease both here at home, and a thousand miles away in the Gulf of Mexico.

If you truly want to raise hogs on this land, I suggest you contact Mike Natvig and Tom Franzen and talk with them about how they raise hogs in an environmentally friendly way. Or, contact the Nieman Ranch out of Thornton, and talk with them about their program of raising hogs in an environmentally friendly way for high-end restaurants. You could put new or young farmers on this land in those endeavors and help young farmers get a start. It is up to you what kind of a neighbor you wish to be.

 

Perplexed by Gipp’s Confinement Stance (8-24-04)

The Confinement legislation Chuck Gipp defends (“Gipp defends legislation on confinements”, Decorah Public Opinion Tuesday 8-17-04) does not address the current status of using industrial technology in agriculture.

Gipp’s defense and comments, based on how agriculture operated in the past, is rendered moot because industrial processes, new to agriculture and never intended for use outside of strict regulation, have been adopted for use in the unregulated area of agriculture. In today’s confinements, versus farms of 50 years ago, we see diseases and deaths to both animals and humans because we are no longer dealing with manure spread to fertilize the soil, but are instead dealing with the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia which are continuously generated from untreated fecal waste both in the confinement and in the storage pit or lagoon.

These gases are well known and dealt with somewhat safely in industry through the federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’. Because agriculture is exempt from these regulations (put together after years of study and empirical evidence showing the need for them), neighbors of confinements aren’t living next to a farm with odors, but are living next to unregulated industrial technology constantly producing poison gases which are directly and continuously exhausted into the surrounding neighborhood.

This is a qualitatively different situation from when straw was used as bedding and manure was spread on the farm. The poison gases were not produced because of natural biological processes which safely broke manure down into its constituent parts before hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia could be produced. To equate modern industrial confinements with historical farming is akin to the old ‘bait and switch’ con.

I am perplexed as to why Chuck Gipp makes the arguments and comparisons he does in defending petro-chemical/industrial agriculture. He can surely see, as can many others, the degradation of our soil and water, the loss of our river towns from flooding, the pollution from Iowa’s agricultural chemicals being responsible for 23% of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and the continuing loss of farms and farmers all as a direct consequence of this corporate directed industrial model of farming.

To defend confinements is to condemn their neighbors to a life of diseases and stress caused by unregulated poison producing technology masquerading as farming. To defend petro-chemical/industrial agriculture condemns all of us to a chemical and fecal laden polluted environment. We should expect more from those elected to represent us.

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Air Quality Legislation (3-4-04)

We live in a state where even though we know it is immoral to poison your neighbor, it is not illegal.

There are hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of CAFO’s on people and animals over the last 45 years. Ironically, because some studies to set human limits for gases were done on pigs, we know that animals are susceptible to the same diseases from CAFO’s as people. There may be an argument about the science of those studies, but there can be no argument about the government’s studies culling hospital records, pre- and post-CAFO introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. Add to that, records which show human mortality from hydrogen-sulfide four times higher in agriculture than in the wastewater industry, and a need for public health protection from CAFO’s becomes obvious.

In logic, there is an argument: if a=b and b=c, then a=c. If CAFO’s and sewer pipes both are closed structures, if they both have fecal waste in them generating the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, if the diseases and deaths from those gasses are the same, if you need constant ventilation to survive in either of them, then CAFO’s and sewer pipes are the same. You are essentially eating pork raised in a sewer, and neighbors of CAFO’s are living next to an unregulated poison producing technology.

In every sector in America where these conditions exist, except in agriculture, the controlling laws are the federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’. Since these federal laws already exist, the DNR need only adopt them to protect people in the agricultural/rural sector in Iowa.

Knowing what we know about the dangers associated with sewer pipes and CAFO’s, it is unconscionable for opponents of ‘air-quality regulation’ to take a stance which results in effectively blocking regulations that are to protect the public’s health in relation to CAFO’s in agriculture.
Regulations needed to protect farmers (12-4-03)

Could and should an Iowa farm family sue the State for negligence over a hydrogen-sulfide related confinement death?

Confinements are essentially the same as sewer pipes and other wastewater related confined spaces. They are both closed structures containing untreated fecal waste generating the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.  Both need forced ventilation in order for humans or animals to be in them. The diseases contracted by humans (and animals) spending time in or around either are the same, and, the causes of death, usually from hydrogen-sulfide asphyxiation, are the same.

In every sector in America where these conditions exist, the controlling laws are the federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’- except in agriculture.  Because we do not regulate these conditions in agriculture, farmers are not required to be educated about the dangers involved in using this industrial technology.  They are not required to have safety equipment available to them when they enter these structures, or to follow the prescribed safety procedures normally associated with working in this hazardous and life threatening environment.

In Iowa, deaths from hydrogen-sulfide poisoning are four times higher in agricultural confinements than in the wastewater industry (from OSHA and EHSRC figures).  By not extending the federal ‘Confined Spaces Regulations’ to confinement systems in agriculture, the State is saying that farmers, and farm workers, are an expendable commodity.  By not regulating confinements, farmers and farm workers are left with no knowledge about, or protection from, a dangerous and life threatening work environment.  By not protecting farmers, the State of Iowa is saying farmers and farm workers are not important.

Farmers and farm workers should be afforded the same protections as the rest of Iowa’s citizens.  If the legislature will not extend those protections to them, then the courts should force them to do so.  Some farm family should sue the state for neglecting their right to be protected from a known dangerous industrial technology, the same technology that is regulated anywhere else it exists in America.


Ambient Air Standards and the IWPCA (6-4-03)

To: Incoming President of the IWPCA, Gary Schellhorn
From: Bob Watson
Re: Ambient Air Standards

Dear Gary,

Ultimately because of what our members do, the treatment of wastewater, the IWPCA is an organization made up of people who protect the public’s health. That is why it was at least strange to me, if not downright disconcerting, to find out that my organization took a public stand which resulted in effectively blocking regulations that were to protect the public’s health in relation to CAFO’s in agriculture.

Although I understand by talking with Jay Brady that there are many legitimate concerns that the IWPCA may have with the way the regulations were being written and implemented, the perception remains that the IWPCA was arguing against allowing the public to be protected from hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia when our members protect the public from hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia on a daily basis.

There are hundreds of studies that have been done on the effects of CAFO’s over the last 45 years. There may be an argument about those studies, which I also understand some of our members think we might need to get in to, but there is no argument about the studies culling hospital records, pre and post CAFO introduction into a community, which show clearly a tripling of those illnesses generally associated with exposure to hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. Add that to the OSHA records which show mortality from hydrogen-sulfide four times higher in agriculture than in wastewater, and a need for public health protection from CAFO’s becomes obvious.

It seems to me that the IWPCA should be lending its expertise to help protect the public rather than thwarting the attempts of others who are trying to do so.

It also seems to me that the IWPCA should have procedures outlined specifically for when the IWPCA wishes to speak for its members, especially on a controversial subject where all members might not agree with the stated position.

I wish to bring this up to the appropriate members of the IWPCA, hence the copy to others listed, and, also to the member’s at large, maybe at the Business Meeting in Sioux City. Please let me know what you think about a process that would get these discussions going without any rancor.

There is much more that I could say about the CAFO issue since I have been involved in it for many years, and, it is a main concern in my U.S. Senate Campaign, but I will leave off with these stated initial concerns.

Confinements and Pollution (5-7-03)

It is immoral and should be illegal to knowingly poison your workers, your neighbors and the shared water and air.

In every sector of America, except agriculture, where fecal waste generating hydrogen sulfide and ammonia exists in a structure, the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” are the applicable laws.

If the Legislature’s fear is that by extending these laws to agriculture, confinements would be outlawed for raising food, then that only shows the foolishness of adopting inherently poisonous industrial technology for agricultural use.

To protect our farmers and our markets, import restrictions can be put in place outlawing the import of goods using any production techniques not allowed in this country. Free enterprise should have nothing to do with harming humans through poisonous production technologies.

We know how to raise hogs safely. We should settle for no less.

Trying to help, not insult, our farmers (9-2002)

Three weeks ago we held our annual Iowa Water Pollution Control Association meeting. At that meeting two engineers with over thirty years experience with agricultural watersheds made significant statements concerning the effects of our current petro-chemical model of agriculture. One asserted that because of erosion we are now technically farming subsoil. The other stated that because of weather events causing siltation, we will never be able to solve our watershed problems if we continue farming as we are today. A friend that I grew up with in Strawberry Point and who works on watershed reparation projects funded by federal and state governments echoes those same beliefs.

As compiled by the Center for Rural Affairs, the latest side by side comparison of farms that practice ‘Clean Agriculture’ versus farms that are still employing the petro-chemical model shows an average profit of $377/acre compared to $127/acre. That is a difference of $250/acre more in profit for the organic farm over the petro-chemical farm.

Farmers in Canada who are growing hemp, from which 26,000 products can be manufactured (including the paper our Constitution was written on, our first American flag, and all our military uniforms through WWII), are making at least $230/acre profit. Hemp is a cover crop which requires no petro-chemicals and can be used in manufacturing, agriculture and energy production. Hemp has been grown in Iowa and could be again, thereby revitalizing our manufacturing, repopulating our rural areas and towns, and helping to clean up our environment.

Compare these two examples to the line of reasoning going on in Ethanol boosting, which claims that more of what isn’t working now is the answer to our problems. The fact that the two brothers who received the largest agricultural subsidy payments in Iowa last year, $2.1 million, went broke should make clear that the problem isn’t how much farmers are doing, but what they are doing. It is pretty clear that in petro-chemical/industrial farming only the input and processing corporations make money. In my Position Paper at my web site www.oneota.net/~watsoncampaign , I propose ways in which farmers can once again make a decent living through agriculture, our environment can be cleaned up and our towns revitalized.

If Paul Hunter would have read the StarTribune article I referred to, he would have noticed that the definitions of the carcinogens and pollutants I quoted were from the Minnesota Health Department and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the EPA says they come from ethanol plants, not me. At our IWPCA meeting I also had a conversation with Jeff Vonk about why the EPA would crack down on Minnesota’s ethanol industry and not Iowa’s. His explanation was that Minnesota’s regional EPA office is Chicago and Iowa’s is Kansas City and that Chicago was more aggressive, but Iowa’s turn is coming.

I spoke with Kossuth county officials in preparation for writing this letter. I was told that because of the relative prices of corn and ethanol, if the Kossuth plant were to open today it would already be losing money. The plant that opened this spring in Galva is already in financial trouble. Because Minnesota Corn Processors’ two ethanol plants were $240 million in debt, they sold out to ADM. Kossuth County, which is virtually broke, now owes $5 million dollars to an ethanol facility which won’t be making any money even when it’s up and running. Add to that the $l million dollar road the facility is now demanding the county put in and a 20 year tax abatement that is already on the books and you have a monster we can certainly do without.

Renewable sources of energy today only account for one percent of our daily energy output in America. Renewables are not given equal subsidies on a par with oil and gas. But even so, wind turbines in northern Iowa are now generating electricity at 3 cents/kwh. Water can be economically broken into hydrogen at 2.5 cents/kwh and that hydrogen can then be used to run generators to produce electricity when the wind isn’t blowing. Just by building more wind generators (a political decision), we can easily transition out of this petro-chemical society to a society based on renewables, and ethanol production would not even be an issue.

Rather than insulting farmers, I believe I am trying to help farmers return to being farmers of a clean and profitable agriculture instead of the industrial machine operators, chemical applicators and sewer workers that the petro-chemical/industrial model of agriculture has turned them into.

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‘Dry’ ethanol plant emissions harmful (8-27-02)

Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune’s banner headline has to do with all the “dry process” ethanol plants in Minnesota being required by the EPA to spend tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment because of emitting carcinogenic and other harmful pollutants. Monday Randy Uhl is back in front of the Winneshiek County Supervisors trying once again to sight the “dry process” ethanol plant in the county that county voters already turned down.

Randy Uhl and Rob Denson were going all over the county saying the only thing that would come out of these miracle ethanol plants were water and of course gobs of money. What really comes out, although those of us who tried to tell people this were shouted down and derided, is:

Carbon monoxide: An odorless, colorless gas that reduces the flow of oxygen to the bloodstream. In small amounts it can impair alertness, or cause fatigue and headaches. In large amounts it can be fatal.

Acetaldehyde: pungent, fruity odor. Cancer-causing in animals, probably in humans.

Formaldehyde: pungent suffocating odor. Cancer-causing in animals, probably in humans.

Acrolein: piercing, disagreeable odor. Toxic to upper respiratory system in animal studies.

2-furaldehyde (furfural): almond-like odor. Moderately irritating to skin, eyes and respiratory tract at industrial concentrations. Little or no long-term health information.

Acetic acid: vinegar. Unknown health effects.

Lactic acid: skin and eye irritant at industrial concentrations.

The residents of Winneshiek County deserve better than this. When so-called leaders in the community can so blithely misrepresent industrial processes in their never ending pursuit of money, meanwhile risking resident’s health, their leadership is sorely called into question.

If they are still considering the original site west of Ossian, you people should be doubly concerned. We have already said no to sighting this miracle plant in our county.

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Federal Laws Apply to Hog Confinements (2-28-02)

It is illegal and immoral to knowingly poison your workers, your neighbors and the shared water and air.

It is ridiculous for the Legislature to consider regulations on confinements when those regulations already exist.

In every sector of America where fecal waste generating hydrogen sulfide and ammonia exist in a structure, the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” are the applicable laws.

If the Legislature’s fear is that by extending these laws to agriculture, confinements would be outlawed for raising food, then that only shows the foolishness of adopting inherently poisonous industrial technology for agricultural use.

Some things in life are very complicated. Some things are very simple. This is very simple. We know how to raise hogs safely.  We should settle for no less.

 

Confinement Solution Is No Solution At All (1-30-02)

I was upset this summer by the Des Moines Register’s columnist Shirley Ragsdale’s contention that there would only be a solution to environmental degradation and human health problems caused by industrial hog confinements in Iowa when there comes to be a sufficient shift in political power from rural to urban legislators.

Ragsdale’s position struck me as both maddening and ironic. It is maddening when it is apparent that people are not all that interested until confinements become a problem directly for them, and ironic in that we rural people have been waiting and hoping for some help from our urban counterparts with this problem.

But that said, after recently attending a Waterkeepers Alliance presentation moderated by a rural Democratic state senator, I’m beginning to feel Ragsdale may be more insightful than I first imagined.

I was troubled by the Democrats’, and Waterkeepers’, shared presentation of the hog confinement problem and their proposed solution. Their position seems to be that the only thing wrong with confinements is size, and that by having the largest operations treat their waste, the problem is solved.

On the contrary, this solution would bypass any regulation on up to 97 percent of the confinements in Iowa. It would also leave untouched those problem areas inherent in confinement technologies which are unaffected by waste treatment – namely diseases and deaths (both human and animal, both inside and outside confinement buildings) from hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases, and the unfolding disastrous problems caused by antibiotic resistance.

There is a one-to-one correspondence between hog confinements and sewer pipes. Among other attributes, they both contain waste, the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, and both are closed structures.

Rather than use the federal “Clean Water Act” to force only the largest confinements to treat their waste, as the Waterkeepers propose, we should use the federal “Confined Spaces Regulations” for all confinements. These regulations are now used everywhere when waste and poison gases are present—except in agriculture.

Applying this regulation would show the complete inappropriateness of using confinement technologies in agriculture to raise our food.

The rural Democrats, it seems, are willing to settle for the Waterkeepers’ solution of treating waste in the largest 3 percent of hog confinements, thereby, through legislation, institutionalizing pollution from the other 97 percent and calling it a victory. That is no solution. That is no victory.

 

Ethanol Plant a Terrible Idea (9-01)

If thousands of farmers have gone broke raising corn in Northeast Iowa in the last 35 years, why would raising more corn benefit those farmers who are left?

If continuously row cropping our hilly fields has led to the loss of the majority of our topsoil, what would even more intense row cropping do to the little that is left?

If massive amounts of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers have poisoned our groundwater, rivers, streams, lakes and ponds, what would even more do?

If this use of petro-chemicals has almost totally destroyed the beneficial organic organisms in our soil, what happens if we use even more?

The petro-chemical  industrial model of agriculture that Rob Denson and Randy Uhl champion in their push to site an ethanol plant in Winneshiek has never been an appropriate agricultural model for the hilly topography of Northeast Iowa.

The only winners in this more-of -the-same agriculture would be the usual suspects: namely banks, who seem to always do well, and that insurance company called Farm Bureau.

In petro-chemical agriculture, it takes 84 BTU’s of energy to create 1 BTU of energy in corn. Hardly a renewable source of energy.

If Rob Denson truly wants NICC to be in the renewable energy business, he should get NICC involved in solar and wind technology. Or, he could create an alliance with Amory and Hunter Lovins’ Rocky Mountain Institute which is the world’s leader in energy-saving efficiencies.

If Denson wants NICC to be involved in an agriculture that is sustainable, NICC should become involved in alternative crop studies. If Denson is truly concerned about NICC’s funding stream, he should work to oust our local state representatives.

Petro-chemical industrial agriculture is poisoning us. Scientific studies have shown that, because of our fertilizer runoff and soil erosion, Iowa alone is responsible for 23 percent of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most beaches in our state parks are polluted and many were closed this summer. Because ground with no cover crop holds only 5 percent of rain water, the floods that destroyed most of Littleport and Volga were a direct result of row cropping. Most levels of our subsurface aquifers have petro-chemical compounds in them.

An ethanol plant in Winneshiek County is a terrible idea. Northeast Iowa does not need more of what has already proven to be harmful to our health, wealth and well being.

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Rural America Has Become Sacrifice Area (8-01)

Whatever cultural mythology our ancestors brought with them to this country which allowed them to herd the indigenous population they hadn’t killed into sacrifice areas has, ironically, come full circle and we are using it against our own people. Rural America has become a sacrifice area.

That is only one of many levels of problems and psychological disconnects related to the industrial agriculture controversy the recently formed “Iowa Driftless Chapter of Trout Unlimited” will have to overcome if, as stated by chapter president Steve Jacobsen in a recent Cedar Rapids Gazette article, “…The members are also worried about the threat to cold-water streams posed by large-scale confinement operations. Trout Unlimited members want to take part in discussions aimed at limiting their harmful impact on water quality…”

Besides the myth problem I’ve stated above, other problem areas for Trout Unlimited members to grapple with in the confinement controversy are:

  1. By default, rural America has become a sacrifice area already. Our streams and wetlands are basically gone. Our rivers, wells and aquifers are polluted. Our soils are dead or washed away. Our air contains floating poisons. Our flora and fauna are probably beyond returning to pre-1950 complexity or pristineness.

    As a percent of total population, there are so few of us left living here that we are being taken advantage of because we have no political clout. Hence the rise of biologically harmful petro-chemical agriculture 60 years ago and the even more deadly industrial agriculture being forced on rural America today.

    How can we call something farming when spray drift can completely kill your neighbor’s orchard as recently happened to a local Farmers Marketer? Or, that sprays are routinely used that kill literally all life in the soil so that soil no longer is the agent of life, but only a medium for seeds and chemicals.

    2. Petro-chemical agriculture and industrial agriculture are inherently harmful. There is no known technology which can make poisons or toxic agricultural byproducts safe. Life on this planet is biologically based. Farming which kills biology will ultimately kill us.

    3. I am always amazed at the lemming-like quality of most humans. The “do nothing even if you know it is detrimental” behavior. Trout Unlimited’s next problem is that there are no ongoing discussions about industrial confinements to get involved with. There seems to be a complete disconnect in voters’ thinking when it comes to politics and what behavior follows from political decisions.
    Current local, state and federal politicians, through their laws, have made it impossible for us to decide whether we want an agriculture based on biology or poison. There are no laws which can be used to make it so corporations or lemming-like humans can be forced not to poison their neighbors.

    Until people figure out that they need to elect thoughtful and wise politicians to get thoughtful and wise programs, we seem to be stuck with poisons and harmful toxins as the basis for our agriculture.

    4. Because animals raised in industrial confinements are in constant contact with poisons, their immune systems are stressed to the limit. Hence the need for massive amounts of antibiotics to simply keep disease away and animals alive long enough to slaughter. This has resulted in an epidemic of formerly treatable human diseases that are now immune to antibiotics. The consequences of this and bugs that have evolved pesticide resistance are immense. Throw in unknown GMO mutations, and you are simply living in a nightmare.

None of this has to be. Prior to 1940, farming was based on biology. Labor and management took the place of modern-day structures and inputs like electricity and petro-chemicals. Trout streams that I fished in the 1950’s abounded. Welcome to the fight.
Is the Pork You Eat Raised in a Sewer?  A Discussion of the Science Linking Sewer Pipes and Hog Confinement Buildings.  (Jan 2000)

We have unwittingly loosed an environmental disaster upon ourselves. We have inadvertently adopted parts of the sewer industry’s technology for our hog confinement systems without the federally required safeguards or the end sewage treatment process. We have taken a system used to transport raw sewage and inappropriately adopted it to raise meat for human consumption. It is my claim that if you eat pork raised in a confinement you are eating pork raised in a sewer pipe.

Both a sewer pipe and a hog confinement building are closed structures with raw sewage in the bottom constantly generating poison sewer gases. Some confinements have a storage tank directly underneath the hogs. Others have a slope system which collects the sewage which is then periodically flushed or pumped to an outside lagoon or slurry tank. Similarly, a sewer pipe is slightly slanted so that sewage flows downhill. Human sewage, unlike hog sewage, is ultimately treated and rendered safe to the environment.

As in a sewer pipe, sewage in a confinement building is constantly generating the poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. If sewer personnel are to perform any work in a sewer environment, called a “confined space” in the industry, many federally mandated procedures must be followed, and federally mandated equipment must be used. These requirements are a result of understanding the whys of sewer industry related deaths and diseases from hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. One of the most important requirements is the ventilation of the work space so that workers are not overcome or killed by the poison gasses. Similarly, confinement buildings must constantly be ventilated so workers and hogs are not killed by these same gases.

Unlike the strict regulation in the sewer industry, which allows only short, regulated shifts in a confined space, workers in confinements have no education about or regulation of the dangerous environment in which they just work. That the two environments are the same is evident in the studies that have been conducted in both industries concerning the gases present, the diseases caused by those gases, and the deaths caused by those gases.

The scientific studies of hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia underpinning federal regulation of the sewer industry have been accepted for thirty years. Likewise, the federal regulations themselves have been settled law for thirty years and no questions exist about their correctness.

There are scientific papers studying these same gases, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, in confinements. Some of those papers are:

“Respiratory Dysfunction in Swine Production Facility Workers,” Kelley J. Donham, MS, DVM, Stephen J. Reynolds, PhD, CIH, Et.Al., American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1995.

“A Control Study of Health and Quality of Life of Residents Living in the Vicinity of Large Scale Swine Productions,” K. Thu, K. Donham, Et. Al., Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 1997.

“Air Quality Assessments in the Vicinity of Swine Production Facilities,” Stephen J. Reynolds, Kelley J. Donham, Et. Al., Journal of Agromedicine, 1997.

“Longitudinal Evaluation of Dose-Response Relationships for Environmental Exposures and Pulmonary Function in Swine Production Workers,” S. Reynolds, K. Donham, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1996.

“Field comparison of Methods for Evaluation of Vapor/Particle Phase Distribution of Ammonia in Livestock Buildings,” S.J. Reynolds, D. Journal of Agromedicine, 1997.

“Longitudinal Evaluation of Dose-Response Relationships for Environmental Exposures and Pulmonary Function in Swine Production Workers,” S. Reynolds, K. Donham, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 1996.

“Field comparison of Methods for Evaluation of Vapor/Particle Phase Distribution of Ammonia in Livestock Buildings,” S.J. Reynolds, D.Y. Chao, Et. Al., Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health, 1998.

There are dozens and probably hundreds of other studies worldwide concerning gases and human diseases caused by those gases in confinement systems.

A sample from these studies will show they are concerned with some of the same gases and resulting diseases as are found in the Occupational and Health Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations concerning hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia. From the confinement studies:
“Approximately 60% of swine production workers complain of at least one respiratory symptom, most of which are acute symptoms. Among this group of workers with respiratory symptoms, approximately 30% also experience chronic bronchitis, 30% have reactive airway disease, and 30% experience episodes of organic dust toxic syndrome. These conditions can be directly attributable to exposure to aerosolized dust and its biologically active constituents (endotoxin, allergens) in addition to gases such as ammonia and hydrogen-sulfide.”

“Compared to control populations of urban workers and crop farmers, workers in enclosed livestock environments have a higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm, wheezing, and dyspnea. Confinement workers also exhibit decreased pulmonary function indicative of both chronic and acute effects (Boyer, 1974; Thelin,1984; Stahuliak-Berinc, 1977; Brouwer, 1986; Holness,1987; Donham, 1989;Reynolds, 1993; Donham, 1984; Muller, 1986; Petro, 1978).”

Pigs are affected by these gases the same as people. The original OSHA limits for humans in part were established, ironically, from studies on pigs. From the Federal OSHA Rules and Regulations:
“The ACGIH (1986/Ex. 1-3) believes that a 8-hour TWA limit is necessary for ammonia because a study by Stombaugh, Teague, and Roller (1960/Ex. 1-29) reports that pigs exposed continuously to 103 to 145 ppm ammonia reduced their consumption of food and lost weight. The ACGIH interprets this study to mean that systemic toxicity occurs as a result of chronic exposure to ammonia. However, OSHA interprets this study differently, believing instead that it shows a secondary effect of the irritation traditionally associated with ammonia exposure. That is, in OSHA’s view, these pigs stopped eating because they were experiencing too much respiratory and eye irritation to be interested in their food.”

The more recent studies on humans indicate adverse effects from ammonia at concentrations as low as 7 ppm.

Now, from the OSHA studies on hydrogen-sulfide (which the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has measured at 30 times the federal limit at confinement sites):
“Summary of toxicology- Hydrogen-sulfide gas is a rapidly acting systemic poison which causes respiratory paralysis with consequent asphyxia at high concentrations. It irritates the eyes and respiratory tract at low concentrations. Inhalation of high concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide, 1000 to 2000 ppm, may cause coma after a single breath and may be rapidly fatal; convulsions may also occur. Exposure to concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide above 50 ppm for one hour may produce acute conjunctivitis with pain, lacrimation, and photophobia; in severe form this may progress to keratoconjunctivitis and vesiculation of the corneal epithelium. In low concentrations, hydrogen-sulfide may cause headache, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disturbances; in somewhat higher concentrations it affects the central nervous system, causing excitement and dizziness. Prolonged exposure to 250 ppm of hydrogen-sulfide may cause pulmonary edema. Prolonged exposure to concentrations of hydrogen-sulfide as low as 50 ppm may cause rhinitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, and pnuemonitis. Repeated exposure to hydrogen sulfide results in systemic effects may result from concentrations previously tolerated without any effect. Rapid olfactory fatigue can occur at high concentrations.”

And the OSHA ammonia studies:
“Summary of toxicology- Ammonia vapor is a severe irritant of the eyes, especially the cornea, the respiratory tract, and skin. Inhalation of concentrations of 2500 to 6500 ppm causes dyspnea, bronchospasm, chest pain and pulmonary edema which may be fatal; production if ping frothy sputum often occurs. Consequences can include bronchitis or pneumonia; some residual reduction in pulmonary function has been reported. In a human experimental study which exposed 10 subjects to various vapor concentrations for 5 minutes, 134 ppm caused irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat in most subjects and 1 person complained of chest irritation; at 72 ppm, several reported the same symptoms; at 50 ppm, 2 reported nasal dryness and at 32 ppm only 1 reported nasal dryness.”

In effect, the diseases and dangers are the same in sewers and confinements, which you would expect, because the gases and sewage and closed environment are the same.

It has been mentioned to me the ag industry people are going to argue with the studies on confinements. I think that misses the point. Because sewage in a closed environment, Generation hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia, is common to both sewer pipes and confinements, we know for certain, from the federal studies, what the effects on humans and the hogs will be. I doubt the ag industry experts will want to argue with OSHA over its hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia regulations.

We know that humans in the confinement industry have died from sewer gases. We know that thousands of hogs in confinements have died from sewer gases. We know that people working in confinements suffer the same diseases as sewer workers. We know that pathogens associated with sewage, and, antibiotic resistant bacteria have been found in wells and waterways around confinements. We know that spills of untreated hog manure kill aquatic life the same as spills of untreated human waste. We know these sewer gases from confinements are constantly vented directly into the air and into the neighborhoods surrounding confinements.

So, we now know that sewer pipes and confinement systems are the same. I suggest to you that if you eat pork raised in a confinement, you are eating pork raised in a sewer. There can be no technological fix to make confinements safe because confinements, like sewer pipes, always have sewage and poison gases. Therefore, I believe confinements are an inappropriate technology for agriculture and Iowa, and should be immediately phased out. Environment-, people-, and pig-friendly systems exist today (such as hoop houses with deep bed systems) which can handle production without stinking up Iowa or harming or killing its people, its animals and its places.

Because this was an inadvertent rather than an intentional outcome of the rush to progress, I believe it is incumbent upon us all to share in the costs of the transition to non-polluting, non-dangerous technologies. We know what we’ve done, and, we know what to do about it.

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New Hog Confinements Require New Regulations (6-2000)

Because corporations and land grant universities, such as Iowa State, wholeheartedly embraced the transference of industrial technologies to certain sectors of agriculture, family farmers are once again caught in a dilemma not of their own design.

A byproduct of raising hogs in a traditional setting, and in modern, deep-bed, hoophouse set-ups, was, and is, a compostable and composted manure which when applied to fields greatly enhances soil nutrients and helps build and maintain healthy humus.

In contrast, byproducts of raising hogs in industrial confinement buildings are the toxic and poison gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.

A sewer pipe and a hog confinement building are similar to such a degree that they can reasonably be called the same. Both are contained structures. Both have waste in the bottom. Waste in both continuously produces hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia (because of composting in traditional or deep-bed systems, these poison gases are not produced).

Both sewer pipes and confinements must constantly vent their poison gases to the outside air if humans or animals are to survive inside. Prolonged human contact with these poison atmospheres results in a myriad of diseases which are well documented and do not need to be studied all over again. Death from hydrogen-sulfide ingestion can and has happened recently in Iowa, both in the sewer industry and in agriculture.

In industrial and municipal settings, access to these poison environments is highly regulated and controlled by federal rules: the “confined space” regulations.

Conversely, all regulation of, protection from, and education about confinement structures, and their poison environments, has been left out in the transition to agriculture.

You end up with the perverse situation in which local small family farmers defend raising hogs in confinements while unwittingly poisoning themselves and their hired help, and, through constantly venting these poison gases to the atmosphere, poisoning their families and their neighbors, and, poisoning groundwater through inevitable spills and misapplication of liquid manure.

Clearly, if you are going to transfer a technology from one industry to another, all the education, protections for the public, and regulations should be transferred, too.

Another Poison Sewer Pit For Northeast Iowa (11-30-99)

Wendell Berry has been eloquent and thorough in his analysis of land-grant colleges’ prostituting themselves for industrial agriculture’s research money and how that money then bastardizes the agricultural research done.

Even though I understand this process, it truly amazes and disheartens me to see it continue, especially now at Northeast Iowa Community College with its planned research on “manure stored in a concrete basin,” ‘Showcase for the Future,’ (Decorah papers Tuesday, Nov. 16).

Enough research has been done on storing untreated manure, and, along with mountains of anecdotal evidence (fish kills, stench, diseases and deaths in confinement industries), anyone paying attention knows untreated waste, human or animal, in a concrete pit or basin, a metal tank or lagoon, is a poison soup generating the poison sewer gases hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia.

That untreated waste is a ticking time bomb, which through leaks, accidents and misapplication destroys our environment, kills our fish and wildlife, and sickens and kills people and farm animals.

Rather than industrial ag’s pits of untreated manure, we know from traditional farming, and modern research on deep-bed systems, that manure immediately introduced to adequate bedding, whether cornstalks, straw, hay, recycled newspapers, etc., will compost itself, breaking down into its constituent parts and not creating poison gases.

Created instead is a material which can be applied to cropland as a safe additive to topsoil complete with nutrients for crop uptake and humus for building healthy soil.

As a “big” business, industrial agriculture relies on structures (confined areas, pits, tanks, machines, etc.), inputs (electricity, hormones, antibiotics, etc.) and cheap labor. On the other hand, a farmer uses his own understanding of his lands and livestock to manage his farm’s biological functions and rhythms.

As long as land-grant colleges keep accepting research funds from industrial agriculture firms, those colleges will continue studying industrial ag set-ups and not farming, and, Northeast Iowa will get yet another stinking poison sewer pit instead of safe compost piles.

Cantankerous Farmers (11-28-99)

Farmers have been historically and continue to be one of the most cantankerous and independent-minded groups of people in the United States. Understanding that makes Edward T. Shonsey’s piece in the Nov. 21 Sunday Register, “Bio-technology Besieged,” at least inappropriate, if not downright dishonest.

Although the literary device of putting your words in others’ mouths may be tried and true, farmers completely cognizant of and totally agreeing with the biotech industry’s position on genetically altered crops and their safety seems somewhat far-fetched.

 

There are solutions to handling manure.  (10-99)

I was hoping more than one person would join the discussion about the technology available to raise large numbers of hogs.  Nevertheless, I will respond to Don Davis’ letter by including Jefferson, Iowa, veterinarian Carl Telleen’s recent letter to the Des Moines Register, and also refer your readers to the Sunday, Sept. 20, Des Moines Register farm section.

In it are two articles relating to Telleen’s letter.  One is about Herman Tripp’s composting machine using his manure and cornstalks, and the other concerns the federal government’s plan to regulate all hog facilities of 2,500 or more hogs.

Carl Telleen’s letter to the Des Moines Register:

“Manure spills into our water and air are just as environmentally unhealthy as were the chemical spills into our rivers from growing city factories, and the spills from raw sewage from growing populations during the last century.

Any farm that cannot return all its manure back onto the land from whence it came to feed the next crop and the next generation is no longer a farm, much less a family farm.  It is a factory, and federal laws must be passed to forbid untreated manure from being returned to the environment, the same as federal laws forbid untreated sewage and factory waste from being returned to the environment.

The large hog factories must be required to make odorless compost out of all manure in three days by adding cornstalks, straw or newspaper in large composting machines.

The family farm must apply the Swedish composting system of using six inches of cornstalks or straw for bedding and cleaning this out and spreading it on the land every six months.

These systems will eliminate all odor and kill all bacteria in the compost in three days.

Get busy, Congress, and start passing laws to protect our health and the environment.”

 

State allows people to eat sewer-raised pork.  (3-99)

Having both raised hogs for food and worked in the wastewater industry, I was wondering how long it would take the hog confinement industry to admit that hog confinement buildings are nothing more than short sewer pipes.  (“Swine building donation to help with farmer safety training,” Gazette news story: March 15.)

An enclosure with sewage in the bottom and poisonous gas in the top, gas monitors for the detection of the poisonous gases ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, breathing respirators for workers, the not-mentioned need for constant ventilation of those poisonous gases to the outside (which neighbors get to breathe) – those factors and all the associated health problems mentioned in the article prove a one-to-one correspondence to a sewer collection system.

Because of the inherent danger posed by working in a poisonous environment, OSHA has for years strictly regulated equipment and techniques used in sewer system work.  Likewise, if the ventilation system in a hog confinement building stops working, all animals can be dead within 30 minutes.

I’m amazed that people eat pork raised in a sewer, and that the state allows it.

 

Pick potting soil over poisons.  (9-3-98)

There are two competing technologies today for raising large numbers of hogs.  The end product for both systems is hogs for market, but, as a byproduct, one technology process produces the poisons hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia and the other technology produces potting soil.  Our question is which system do we want in this county?

The system that produces potting soil uses very simple technology.  It is called a deep-bed system and utilizes north/south placed hoop houses or modified pole barns or steel buildings.  The floor is usually gravel with a deep bed of compostable material – usually corn stock, hay, straw or other suitable material.

The bedding composts the animal waste producing no poisons or toxic material.  At the end of the growing cycle, the bedding is simple windrowed to further the composting process.  If left for up to two years, this material reduces by up to 80 percent and is basically potting soil to be returned to the field as organic fertilizer.

Although banned in Europe, the confinement building is the other system used in the U.S. to raise hogs.  Confinement technology is more complicated, requires constant electricity and because waste is stored in pits, slurry tanks or lagoons, the poisonous gases ammonia and hydrogen-sulfide are constantly being produced.

Some of the ramifications of these poisons being produced by this technology are:

The structural integrity of the steel in the building is compromised in seven years.  That is why you see all the “seven years and the building is yours” sweetheart deals offered to producers.  At seven years, the building becomes an insurance maintenance liability because the poison gas hydrogen-sulfide has eaten away the steel’s strength.

Anyone old enough to have raised hogs before the coming of confinements can tell the difference in odor.  Traditional or hoop operations don’t smell like confinements.  Confinement odors are unique because of the presence of the poisonous gases.

It is no wonder that people living in any direction from a confinement claim medical problems.  They are breathing poisonous gases that must be constantly ventilated so the hogs won’t die.  The state of Minnesota has measured these poisons at 30 times the federally allowed limits.  If these sites were industrial or municipal, they would be shut down.

Because of the presence of these poisons, and if confinements were considered the same as industrial and municipal, besides constant ventilation, gas monitors would be required.  All personnel would have to wear a body harness attached to a manned winch so they could be pulled to safety if they were incapacitated by the poisonous fumes.  Deaths occur from these gases in the agricultural sector as well as the industrial and municipal sectors, and to animals as well as humans.

Because confinement animals live in a poison gas, sewer-like environment, their immune systems are stressed to the very limit.  Great precautions must be taken to prevent the introduction of disease and antibiotics must be continually fed to the animals to stave off infections.  Because of these and other like practices, many antibiotics are no longer useful in fighting human diseases.

The poisons produced in confinement systems are also responsible for polluting waterways and killing aquatic wildlife.  Whether from a malfunction of technology (which we are always told can’t happen), neglect or stupidity, or from misapplication of waste on farm fields, spills and kills happen daily.  Including this past weekend’s kill in a native reproducing trout stream in Dorchester, and Crane Creek’s second kill.

In my business, I have talked with almost all the wastewater superintendents in the state.  All of them I have talked with about the confinement situation think confinements should have to have municipal-style treatment of their wastes.

I hope knowing that there are two technologies for raising hogs, you will pick potting soil over poison.

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Time for Hageman and Rothmeyer to resign.  (1995)

It is simply time for Linus Rothmeyer and Dave Hageman to retire as county supervisors.

At a recent, by invitation only, tour of Brad Herman’s hog-confinement operation next to North Winn School, Rothmeyer and Hageman were caught laughing at and joking about the people who went to look at and were concerned about the cracks in the floor and walls of the hog manure pit.  They derogatorily labeled these people as “environmentalists,” as if being concerned about the water and air your children drink and breathe is stupid.

These concerned people are parents, farmers, school board members and neighbors of the area.  They are also county residents and therefore Rothmeyer and Hageman’s constituents.

Laughing at people is a behavior we scold our children for.  Laughing at people as an adult, and as a member of the county board of supervisors, is asinine.  Laughing at a group of Winneshiek County residents while standing in a group of Allamakee County and Minnesota residents is completely reprehensible.

Since Hageman and Rothmeyer have apparently sided with Herman on this issue, and are more concerned with residents of Allamakee County and Minnesota making money than they are with the health of Winneshiek County residents, they should immediately resign their positions as county supervisors.

As the latest “hog manure” fish kill near Postville shows, even if “pit manure” is spread correctly, in essence knifed into the soil 9-10 inches, pit manure is so toxic it will still contaminate our water and kill fish.

Since Linus and Dave can’t seem to understand the difference between agriculture and industrial agriculture, and since they don’t seem to care about protecting the health of the citizens of this county, they should give up their positions and let us elect people who do understand the dangers of modern industrial agriculture and are interested in protecting human life in the county.

 

Industrialized ag a danger to all citizens.  (1995)

Starting with a farm located 8/10 of a mile from North Winneshiek School and historically known as Frog Farm, a Waukon businessman apparently has a plan to render much of Winneshiek County uninhabitable for humans.

Said businessman plans to put 4,000 hogs next to North Winn School, 4,000 more just east of Burr Oak and it is rumored two more facilities are planned, one outside Ossian and the other near Decorah.

First off, it is shameful to be siting a hog confinement so close to North Winn School, but doubly so by using Frog Farm.  This farm is aptly named due to the sink-hole area it is situated in, the wetlands-type conditions which exist on parts of the farm, the spontaneous springs which occur in the wet season and the crisscross nature of field tiles which connects Frog Farm with ditches, streams and other farms in the area.

All these reasons, plus soil type and depth, make this farm highly suspect for spreading manure from 4,000 hogs.  Since hogs generate six times the waste as humans do, it is like having two Decorahs crap in a pit for a year and then dumping it on Frog Farm.  At the very least, the DNR should do an environmental study before allowing this venture to proceed.

There is hope in stopping this from happening through other means as well.  If no neighbor agrees to take excess manure, spreading would become extremely expensive because of distance.  Since the manager of this confinement operation also manages the Bruening farms in the area, it would be hoped the recently appointed Luther Regent, Duane Bruening, would not allow his nearby farms as manure sites either.  It doesn’t seem likely that someone entrusted with oversite of one educational institution would have anything to do with creating problems for another.

On the other hand, County Supervisor Dave Hageman thinks all neighbors of this farm should spread excess manure.  Apparently, right up to the edge of North Winn’s new playground.  I don’t think Dave will get many votes from the North Winn area next election.

Sending letters to county supervisor Chairman Linus Rothmeyer won’t help either if he treats this situation like the designated ag area controversy.  Linus told us that to lobby him with our opinions we had to write letters to the board.  He then refused to open the majority of letters that were received, and they disappeared.  I understand that behavior toward letters happens quite often, and I think the county attorney or sheriff should investigate what happens to public property in the form of letters when they are sent to the supervisors.  So much for public input.

State Representative Weigle was sympathetic to the school’s plight.  With the help of Chuck Gipp, the rules on hog confinement houses may be revisited this session with stricter controls built in.  This Waukon man needed no building or sanitarian oversight in building this facility.  We don’t know how safe or durable any of it is.

As I tried to indicate during the designated agricultural area controversy, “industrial” agriculture is a lurking menace and danger to all county citizens.  North Winn School kids are the first to be threatened.  The residents east of Burr Oak are next and then possibly Ossian and Decorah.

This concerns more than the 100 citizens and neighbors who showed up at North Winn School last week.  Wake up and do something or all you and your friends and visitors will smell and drink is hog manure!

 

No time to lose on ‘ag areas’.  (5-95)

As was aptly put by Ellen Macdonald at the open supervisors meeting, “nuisance” is an unfortunate choice of words when speaking about “designated agricultural areas.”

The majority of (only?) people asking for a “designated ag area” are those engaged in, or wanting to engage in, industrial agriculture.  These people want the supervisors to take away neighbors’ rights to protect their own property from the inevitable problems caused by industrial agriculture.

With the advent of confinement houses, manure pits and slurry systems, because of sheer volumes involved and systems used in industrial agriculture, any mistake, miscalculation, careless action, disregard for proper procedure or plain simplemindedness can transform once valued waste products into noxious, toxic poisons that are not just a “nuisance” to neighbors but can actually kill.

Industrial agriculture can kill livestock as happened to 159 hogs last week during “routine” cleaning of a confinement house.  It can kill fish, stream and river life.  Industrial ag can poison groundwater, aquifers and associated wells.  It can also kill your way of life if your right to protect your property through court action has been denied to you by your county supervisors.

The supervisors are aware the Iowa attorney general has issued an opinion that denying nuisance suits by granting “designated agricultural areas” is unconstitutional, but, that may not sway them.  If you don’t want the supervisors to take away your property rights vis a vis your neighbor, then you need to write to them immediately.  Otherwise, next Monday, May 8, because they have not heard from enough people, the supervisors may vote to take away your right to use the courts as a last resort in settling an argument.

Town people are involved in this also.  The Upper Iowa River runs through town, and I believe “catch and release” status is being sought for smallmouth bass.  How about dead bass?

You cannot wait on this issue as you have others.  There is little time.  Use your voice and your pen before it is too late.

 

A call to arms over ‘agricultural areas’.  (4-95)

Although I understand that lawyers do not have an oath concerning their profession analogous to a medical doctor’s oath, I would hope that the lawyers of Winneshiek County are concerned with the proposed onslaught of personal rights if the designation of “agricultural areas” immune to nuisance suits by neighbors is adopted by the county board of supervisors.

This is a call to arms to all those people of Winneshiek County who have in the past come out of the woodwork and woods to forge an alliance of common sense and right in previous controversies such as 911, the landfill and county zoning.

This controversy may (is) be more insidious than any other we have faced.  In the contemplated action, your personal right to settle a dispute using the last recourse, namely the courts, may be summarily denied to you.

It will not matter what your neighbor does that affects your property or your ability to live on your land, you will not be able to sue if a “designated agricultural area” has been granted to your neighbor.

You will have no rights vis-à-vis your neighbor.

I find this possibility totally contrary to common sense, decency and neighborliness.  If you are not alarmed, you should be.

I felt this law to be unconstitutional from the beginning and my feelings have been justified by Michael E. Gabor’s article in last week’s Des Moines Register.

I quote:

“The nuisance provisions of the House bill are similar to the nuisance provisions of the Agricultural Area Statute, Iowa Code Chapter 352.  In drafting and approving these statutes, the House has apparently overlooked Article I, Section 1, of the Iowa Constitution which provides: “RIGHTS OF PERSONS:  All men are, by nature, free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights – among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.” (Emphasis added.)

As compared to the U.S. Constitution, this provision in the Iowa Constitution appears unique.  It is state constitutional recognition and expansion of the rights defined in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’  To these, in Iowa, is added the express inalienable right to ‘protect property.’

As is illustrated by William Aldred’s case, the nuisance cause of action has long been the law of civilized societies.  It is one of the primary ways property is protected.

Thus, in Iowa, the right to bring a nuisance action constitutes more than just a property right.  It is arguably a constitutionally recognized inalienable right.  As such, any Iowa statute that takes away a property owner’s inalienable right to bring a nuisance action is constitutionally suspect, at best, and constitutionally impermissible, at worst.

If the state wants to take away the inalienable right to protect one’s property, it must amend the Iowa Constitution.”

If the county board does allow this “ag area” before this constitutional question is answered, they may well open up the county to numerous and expensive lawsuits.

My concern also goes to the number of people who may or may not understand the implication of this decision.  Besides the lawyer representing the people asking for the “ag area,” only five others showed up at the supervisors’ meeting to comment.

The supervisors had expected a much larger turnout and had made arrangements for the court room.  It was not needed.  They were surprised.  I am concerned.

There will be another meeting (Wednesday, April 26, 11 a.m.) before any decision is made and I hope lawyers and all others concerned with summarily denying people’s rights will be in attendance.  Do not take this lightly.  It could be you next!

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New wells are not a solution.  (6-91)

It’s interesting to note that in almost all instances if a product is found to be poisonous to people it is recalled and taken off the market or its production is abandoned.

That seems to be the general rule.  Vitamin supplements, medicines, or other man-made products which end up having unforeseen affects after time are banned.  Milk which reaches the shelf from a contaminated dairy is returned and destroyed.  Salmonella contaminated eggs are destroyed, sometimes the chickens too.  We protect ourselves from the source once we know that source.  That is my point.  Once we know the problem, we take care of the problem.  Our lives are important to us.

Why then doesn’t this process work when we speak about agriculture, specifically petro-chemical agriculture?  I’m referring now to the front-page article in last Thursday’s Decorah Journal concerning high nitrate levels in much of the county’s groundwater.

My intent is not to blame anyone.  It is only to point out that we now know we are poisoning ourselves through the intense practice of petro-chemical agriculture.  We are currently being warned not to drink the water from many of our wells.  In any other instance, the source of the known poisoning would be stopped.  Why is poisoning from petro-chemical agriculture any different?

We have a successful model of humanly compatible organic agriculture which has an 11,000-year history.  Why should we continue to practice petro-chemical agriculture which in its short 50 years of existence has contributed to so many of our environmental problems, and now directly threatens human life?

I would think that any level of government (county board of supervisors) having ascertained that the people it represents are being poisoned by a known and identifiable process or product, could move to rectify the situation immediately.  Why should the solution be drilling new wells?  That is not a solution.  It is an avoidance technique.

In fact, a return to an organic practice of agriculture would have many benefits other than saving lives.  With new technologies in place, the reintroduction of labor into farming hasn’t near the drudgery factor told of old.  Many more people would return to the land.  With more people, there would be more support industries needed.  With more people, there would be a greater tax base.  Rural Iowa would be revitalized without senseless factories making what we don’t need anyway.  And, surprise, we might even begin to grow people food for those of us who live here, instead of wasted grains for rich foreigners’ animal stock.

A couple years ago I presented a suggested OIKOS program to Luther College on “The Third World Colonization of the Midwest.”  With the poisoning of county residents, this topic is especially pertinent today.  When people’s health becomes just another item in an economic balance sheet, instead of the ultimate consideration, we have truly achieved Third World status.  I hope Luther College will reconsider this proposal as one way to help the people of this community become cognizant of their current predicament and the historical antecedents of the problem.  If people know the actual truths, instead of the myths concerning petro-chemical agriculture, they would be much better able to make correct decisions on what to do.

I also hope the appropriate government bodies will take swift action to protect the citizens they represent.

Washington must realize ag crisis is national problem.  (2-14-85)

It has been a painful experience of late listening to and reading commentary about the so-called ‘Farm Problem.’  I have heard many national figures, normally reliable in their perceptions, who have accepted simply erroneous and simple minded views on the subject.  Such as, “Consenting Adults Must Accept the Fate of Their Decision,” and “The Family Farm is Just Not Efficient Enough To Survive In Modern Times.”  Much of this is due, it seems to me, to a pathetic vacuum of effective statesmanship.  There just doesn’t seem to be anyone from the farm states in a position of elected power who is able to recognize the complex interconnectedness of all the pieces (or is willing to risk his position by saying what needs to be said to solve the problems.)

Terry Branstad goes to Washington only to hold a news conference with Iowa legislators and Iowa news media.  The powers that be will not even treat with him.  Cooper Evans mumbles incoherent phrases about helping banking concerns who say they don’t need help in the first place.  Tom Harkin warns of violence in the streets, calls for a mass march on Washington, and is ‘ecstatic’ over something he previously didn’t want.  Grassley is learning, but by his own admission is treated like a bumpkin who doesn’t have to be taken seriously.

Admittedly the problems are very complex.  Admittedly many people will not like hearing the paths we might have to take before  returning to a healthy system.  And admittedly those who speak necessarily risk much.  But maybe that is the difference between a statesman and a mere politician.

What are some things that might need to be heard?  How about:

This is not an agricultural but a national problem.  Historically we have all accepted programs and policies which led to the mass population exodus from the country.  We have simply left the resulting problems squarely in the lap of the remaining 3 percent of people, we have legislated and ‘researched and developed’ the farmer right into his position today.

We have all accepted many of the related problematic ideological positions, such as the commitment to death over life which is being symbolically played out in the fight over the size of the defense budget.  The logical conclusion of money for a bullet or a trident is death.  The logical conclusion of money for food is life.  Right now this country is opting for death and allowing life to wither.

The agricultural petro-chemical cycle is not only expensive but dangerous to land, water, air and ultimately people.  The cycle can be broken, and a return to more natural cycles can be accomplished but not without fundamental shifts in thinking concerning: national responsibility supporting changes in the food system; big machines, big farms, big yields vs. smaller machines, smaller farms, more people; a growth economy vs. a sustainable economy; a generational program for the maintenance of soil vs. yearly programs and a concept of ownership that allows for even destructive uses of land; farming strictly as a business vs. farming as a way of life fostering ideals and values.

These topics are certainly controversial.  But if I might put forward just two findings which could make that controversy more inviting to become embroiled in:  1. the profit per acre in 1945 was twice as high as in 1984; and 2. Farm efficiency gains no more in being larger than a two-man farm.

Who is it who is going to tackle these cultural direction problems?  Land disconnected experts from Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago?  I doubt it.  I don’t think we need look any further than N.E. Iowa.  We here have land connected, fundamentally good values concerning life.  If we wait for others, if we hesitate we are glimpsing our future.

Some of you reading this are probably saying “Oh no, what’s this guy doing now?” or “I don’t agree with him no matter what he writes.”  Well, we may differ in some of the ways we view things.  I did walk around in a rain of bullets that washed away many of the old trappings, but then so did many of you.  I doubt though, if many would argue with our commonly held belief in the sanctity of life.

We need statesmen more now than ever.  Men and women well versed in the problems and possible solutions, and who are willing to ‘act’ on them no matter what the risks.  Come out of the woodwork, folks; you’re needed.

If any of you think I’m misinformed or you’re way ahead of me let me know.  Invite me to listen to you or your group, let me ask questions.  Ask me, I’ll ask you.