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Letter to the Editor: We are the problem

To the Editor:

We are the Problem

We are approaching the year mark in our work to educate others about CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). This all began in February of 2017 when we learned that two separate 2,499 head hog CAFOs were being built in our neighborhood in Howard County, situated on karst terrain. After reaching out to the owners and operators of the CAFOs, the DNR, and other government officials expressing our concern, the CAFOs were still built. But during that same time the Northeast Iowans for Clean Air and Water was created. A covenant of 43 families covering over 5,000 acres was formed preventing liquid manure and CAFOs from being built on our lands now and in the future. Words from our representatives have been published in local and national publications and have been spoken in Iowa’s State Capitol. Words of ours have made a difference in the lives of others.  Yet, what we keep hearing from those within the hog industry is WE are the problem.

CAFOs can emit hazardous gases including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. The emissions can be associated with various sensory and respiratory issues including asthma, coughing, nose, throat, and eye irritation, and fatigue. Additionally, CAFOs are associated with biological particles being present in the air which can include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These particles can be inhaled by those in proximity to these CAFOs. Research has also shown that CAFOs contribute to greenhouse gases including methane and nitrous oxide. We have read numerous research studies regarding the potential negative impact that the emissions from CAFOs can have on nearby neighbors, and we encourage more research to be done. We have tried to express our concern for the neighbors to these CAFOs, both young and old, who are especially susceptible to health concerns. When we point out that many of the neighbors and their families have lived on these rural farms for years (some for over a century) before the CAFOs were built, we are told to “be quiet or move.” We are told that if we did leave that those supporting CAFOs would be “happier” because of it.

Yet, we are the problem.

CAFOs are being built in areas of Iowa that are situated on or nearby karst terrain. Features found within karst regions include caves, springs, and sinkholes. In karst areas, the limestone beneath the ground can crack and dissolve away over time creating crevices. The passageways created can directly connect the surface water to underground water sources. We have expressed concern about the impact that manure spills, leaking pits, overapplication of manure, or manure applied during rainy seasons could have on the well water supply of nearby neighbors. We have expressed concern about the amount of water used by CAFOs and the potential impact it could have on the shallow wells of nearby neighbors. We have expressed concerns about neighbors who spread liquid manure on their fields and had their tiling drain directly into neighboring sinkholes. We have expressed concerns about manure being applied within the watershed of a local creek that has naturally reproducing rainbow trout. The concerns we have expressed have primarily been local concerns, but when you look at our state and see all the impaired waterways, or if you look nationally at the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, the water quality concerns stretch beyond northeast Iowa.

Yet, we are the problem.

We learned that due to the proximity of animals within CAFOs and the potential concern about illnesses spreading within these environments, that antibiotics are often put in the animals’ feed as a preventative measure. As a result, we have expressed health concerns about the potential spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria like MRSA.

Yet, we are the problem.

We just want to have clean air, clean water, and maintain quality of living in Iowa. We have been told repeatedly that people like us who speak out, raise questions, and express concerns are the problem.  We have been told to be quiet or leave.  We have been told that this is the way it is going to be.  We have felt repeatedly like pigs and profit matter more than people.

Yet, instead of being the problem, we sure feel like we are an important part of the solution.

Angie Chambers
Howard County
Northeast Iowans for Clean Air and Water

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