Clearing the air on health effects of living near dairies

Yakima Valley residents have long suffered the ill effects of poor air and water quality due to the industrial model of agriculture and its pollution where they live. Here medical doctor Dean Effler, who lives in Yakima, weighs in…

Clearing the air on health effects of living near dairies

  • Dean Effler, M.D.
  • Feb 6, 2016
  • (1)

On Dec. 5, 2015, the Yakima Herald-Republic published a Saturday Soapbox in which the author claimed that living near a large dairy was beneficial. The author relied on an article from Science that summarized the potential benefits in terms of nasal allergy and asthma that can occur from childhood exposure to farm environment. This is called the Hygiene Hypothesis. Children in a farm environment and adults who lived in a farm environment as a child have marginally fewer allergic diseases. This trend seems to be adequately demonstrated by many studies. However, the author has cherry-picked his data to prove a point and has ignored other facts and studies.

In Yakima County we have over
60 confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the Lower Valley. Some have more than 5,000 cows on very few acres without green pasture. There is too much manure and urine. These wastes produce too much ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, endotoxins and particulate matter (PM 2.5), all of which worsen respiratory function. Noxious odors from CAFOs have been documented to cause worsening of quality of life and psychologic well-being for the neighbors. Whatever minor beneficial effect there might be from developing some allergic symptoms would be outweighed by the negative consequences of the day-to-day noxious environment.

Yakima County has the highest age-adjusted asthma hospitalizations rate in the state. A recent YAWN (Yakima Air Wintertime Nitrate Study) study by Washington State University and Central Washington University showed that elevated ammonia nitrate levels in Yakima during the winter resulted in elevated PM 2.5 levels and the source was likely from agriculture. Elevated PM 2.5 is a known cause of lung disease, asthma, preterm births and heart trouble. It seems obvious that the major source of this ammonia would be from the urine of 200,000 plus dairy cows in the Lower Valley.

A study in North Carolina showed children who lived closer to CAFOs had more asthma symptoms. This study also showed that there were more asthma symptoms in neighboring communities of a CAFO. A recent University of Washington study conducted in the Yakima Valley demonstrated that children with asthma had worse pulmonary function on days following higher versus lower ammonia concentrations (Loftus, 2014). The ammonia concentrations increased with proximity to a CAFO. Bloomfield et. al. in 2006 stated that there is no evidence that prolonged exposure to a farm environment has a protective effect for adults for asthma and nasal allergies. In fact, farmers have a higher rate of occupational allergic disease.

While looking in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine for the article that the author of the recent Soapbox says shows that exposure to a livestock farm can be beneficial, I quickly found many other articles that claimed decreased respiratory function and increased symptoms in livestock work environments. It is the failure to mention these negative studies that allowed me to make the claim that the author was cherry-picking his data.

In summary, although farm/dairy exposures may slightly reduce the incidence of some allergies in some people, the other noxious factors cannot be ignored.
Dean Effler, M.D., lives in Yakima.

Leave a comment

Filed under General Information

DNR officials screen records requests before documents are released

Information concept: Red Closed Padlock on digital background

Today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article sheds some light on why those open records requests have taken so long to get…they are being “screened”. Remember that Midwest Environmental Advocates, sued the DNR on January 25, 2016, over delays in records requests. After reading the Journal’s article today, one must wonder, just WHO is on the “DO NOT RESPOND LIST”?

Leave a comment

Filed under General Information, Legal

Don’t wait on the science before helping victims of groundwater pollution

Photo by Chuck Wagn

Photo by Chuck Wagner

Gov. Scott Walker recently visited Kewaunee County, promising that our groundwater pollution problems would be addressed by “science based” solutions. Having recently gutted the state Department of Natural Resources science staff considerably, the governor’s words not only echoed as disingenuous, but filled with hypocrisy.

Thirty-four percent of the tested wells in Kewaunee are contaminated with E. coli, high nitrates, or both. In 2014, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher equated well water samples he had tested in the town of Lincoln to what one would expect to find in a Third World country.

For citizens living with water contamination, Walker’s words and the associated DNR and federal Environmental Protection Agency work group meetings that have been under way since last September, which promise short-term solutions, compliance, and recommendations and regulations to address our contamination — have become synonymous with futility and further delay. They are seen as ineffective responses to those living daily with water they cannot drink, brush their teeth with, bathe or wash their produce in — hence, water that they cannot use in their homes; water that poses a threat to their health and well-being.

Those living without clean, accessible water deserve better than the posturing of help on the way, as days and years go by without relief.

We must not wait on “science” as the antidote necessary for corrective and emergency responses to take place while people suffer. Compassion and help must be given to those in need without the contingency that definitive answers be found as to “why” such contamination exists before aid can be given.

While the governor and other leadership relate that we do not know where our contamination comes from, we certainly have a good idea — and it’s based on facts. With 82 percent of Kewaunee’s residential septics up to code, the potential for contamination coming from septics should be minimal. However, Kewaunee currently has over 98,000 head of cattle — almost five times as many cows as it has humans. Millions of gallons of untreated waste are spread on the landscape in Kewaunee, a landscape that includes the uniqueness of the Niagara Escarpment and the karst topography that leaves us so vulnerable to water contamination.

The industrial farming presence, which has a seat at the table in the work group — and a conflict of interest in these work group discussions — continues to hamper progress and deflect responsibility, all the while extolling the virtues of “nutrients” that poison and pollute our water — manure that has ended up in our lakes and steams, our groundwater and wells.

In cases such as the agricultural pollution found in Yakima Valley, Washington, excessive nutrients have been classified as “dumping,” an overloading of nutrient wastes, applied upon the landscape, that result in runoff that contaminates. Lawsuits have now ensued in these areas, the court ruling that clean water to affected citizenry must be supplied by the violating agricultural operations.

Over and over, nationwide, in Chesapeake Bay, Yakima Valley, Des Moines and Kewaunee — we have seen the failure of “voluntary measures” used in farming to amend behaviors that have the potential to cause great harm to both human health and the environment. Violators must be met with enforcement measures and fines for the costs of their pollution and its cleanup — violators, who have, for too long, externalized their true costs of business to the community and the resources we all share.

For citizens affected with contaminated water through no fault of their own, the wait must be over. It is time for local and state governments, health departments, and agencies to quit waiting on the science, and provide the necessary health and safety measures to those waiting desperately in need of clean, accessible water where they live.

Prioritize human needs first and help others in obtaining life’s most basic human need and right: clean water.

Nancy Utesch is a farmer in Kewaunee County.



Comments Off on Don’t wait on the science before helping victims of groundwater pollution

Filed under General Information