Living downwind from a CAFO or Factory Hog Farm, Porter Township, Clinton County. Everyone has a right to earn a living. Does earning a living give you the right to diminish the quality of life for those around you?
We planned, we saved, we committed blood sweat and tears and finally built the home that we dreamt of for the last 25 years. Nothing spectacular, 1,800 square feet of ranch home, with attached garages, situated to make the best of the southern exposure and designed to accommodate us into our senior years with wider door openings and lever handles.
We built the home on the the property we had grown to love. A parcel just above our older home, where the occassional aroma of manure being spread was just a part of life in the Ag zone. Where the drone of the combines goes on beyond midnight during harvest season. Where helping the neighbors roundup errant livestock that has wandered onto the road and driving through unidentified muck tracked onto the road are a sometimes a weekly event. But that's OK, it's the price you pay for living in the country.
For the folks of Porter Township, the price just went up. With the installation of a 2,200 feeder hog operation a little over a year ago, we started to experience the intense odors that began spoiling our plans to have guests over on a summer weekend for dinner out by the grill. We had to explain to out-of-town family members who stayed with us when a loved one passed away why there was such a stench. Cow manure is one thing, but this was the stench of pigs. Then, since we live about half-mile from this operation, and slightly northeast (the wind here blows from the southwest 80 percent of the time), it got to the point where we couldn't even sit outside on a Sunday morning and enjoy a cup of coffee in our "dream" home. Forget about leaving our windows open, and if you dare hang your clothes out on the line, best check the wind direction first and keep a constant eye.
Over the winter, my husband became quite ill. Here is a man who has never smoked one cigarette and he had a lung infection and smoker's cough for five months! My wonderful, stoic, always busy husband, who I formerly had to beg to go to the doctor when he was sick, now was fully expended after putting in a day at work and for months was unable to do any of his normal puttering and projects.He was so sick, he actually made his own doctor appointments. In 35 years of knowing him, this was not the behaviour of my husband.
Then, just a few weeks ago, we learned this same farm family was doubling the capacity of their operation. This expansion will allow at least 4,200 pigs to be housed in a space-restricted enclosure where their excrement (six pounds per pig, per day) will fall into a concrete pit below to be stored until applied to the local farm fields as fertilizer. This operation will be classified as a large CAFO (a concentrated animal feeding operation). The business model of the corporations who instigate these factory farms is to have their "partner" farmers expand, and expand, and expand.
The number of pigs to reach the large CAFO designation is 2,500 head, it all comes down to a measurement known as Animal Equivilant Units (AEU). A 1,000-pound cow is the standard of measurement, with the mathematical assumption that four 250-pound sows, boars or gilts, equals one AEU. Keep in mind that each of these animals excretes six pounds per day in body waste. Basic math tells us that over 12 tons of manure and urine will be generated every day.
Now, as a farmer you may respond; But we have to have an odor nanagement plan, it's required of us by government agencies! Then tell me why, this so called odor management plan, does not factor in air temperature, wind direction or speed, or humidity levels? I'm not a scientist, but I've read the actual document and know that not only is it a self-recorded document, but there's not really any teeth to it as far as enforcement, and wouldn't a common person have the sense to know that to manage odors, you'd have to factor in air temperatures and wind direction?
Does it matter to you that government and university studies show 25 percent of workers in a CAFO develop acute and chronic respiratory diseases and dysfunction, especially in swine and poultry CAFOs, due to the complex mixtures of particulates, gases and vapors within them? Since a factory farm is designed to manage more animals while employing fewer workers, which of your four to six workers will suffer these ailments? Do you get to choose? Could it be you?
A North Carolina study reported increased symptoms of headache, respiratory illness, diarrhea, burning eyes and reduced quality of life measures among community residents living in proximity to a swine CAFO compared to those not living within two miles. Another study found increases in eye and respiratory symptoms at a measurably elevated level compared to a base group of residents living in the same proximity to regular livestock operations. Children and the elderly were those cited as suffering the most from these reported illnesses.
Quality of life is not easily measured. But, if you live within two miles of a CAFO, who will buy your home when you want to sell? The value of your property can drop as much as 40 percent. So if your home is worth $100,000, you might as well figure that you will only get $60,000 for it, depending on which way the wind is blowing when you try to get an offer. In my book, that's tantamount to robbing my sons of $40,000 worth of their inheritance!
Keep in mind that the two-mile radius has a ripple effect. Realtors and bankers base property value on "comps," meaning the price of an otherwise similar home in a general area. So real estate values outside of the two miles, in neighboring villages and townships will be negatively devalued as well!
At a recent township planning commission meeting, a member said, "hell, you think we wanted all those truck stops over at the interchange? We couldn't stop them because they qualified to develop there under the law." I say to you, that their existance, while annoying to some, created a land value increase, increased tax revenues to the township, created much needed jobs, that pay above what most farm laborers earn, and never kept anyone from having dinner guests over to cook out by the grill.
Even Wayne Township residents, who have to smell the landfill everyday, know that the WTL and it's management provide tax revenues that help sustain the township infrastructure, pay a living wage to dozens of employees, with benefits, and fund innumberable philanthropic efforts to the greater community. Porter Township will suffer the smell, but will not reap one of these benefits. Only Hatfield, a corporation based outside of the county, and one family will see marginal financial gain.
And for those farmers in Porter Township who will say, she's just a tree hugger listening to too much talk from PennFutures advocates, please know this: I have not quoted any research that did not come from a university, government, or cooperative extension study. I was raised on a dairy farm and a non-concentrated pig farm. My father share-cropped when I was growing up. Pigs are the most genetically related farm animal to humans, and no, I'm not making a reference to evolution. I'm talking about swine organs being most suitable and often used in transplants or valve replacements for humans than any other "animal."
That being said, swine excrement smells the most like human waste. And it's just downright un-neighborly to subject folks who have the misfortune of living near you to have to endure such loss of quiet enjoyment of their homes, health, and life savings. This might be the end of this editorial, but it is not the end of the story.
Mary Ann Clark is a Porter Township resident.