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Groups seek regulation for livestock air pollution

If you put thousands of cows or chickens or hogs in a confined area, it’s likely to produce a powerful aroma. But can it harm your health?

A coalition of community and environmental groups says "yes." And they're asking for regulations on high-intensity livestock operations they say violate air pollution standards.

Since the landmark Clean Air Act was passed more than 40 years ago, air pollution from large industrial sources has dropped dramatically. Now, says Tara Heinzen -- an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project-- changes in farm economics mean a new threat.

What used to be a nation of small family farms has become an increasingly consolidated industry of huge factory farms that really do resemble other industrial polluters more closely than a traditional family farm.

 Recently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency did a study of air quality at a variety of large livestock operations, including a dairy in the Yakima Valley with over 5,600 cows. Heinzen’s group analyzed the data and found many exceeded health standards for small particles, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.

Up till now, the EPA hasn’t applied Clean Air Act standards to these so-called Confined Animal Feeding Operations. The Environmental Integrity Project and 20 other groups have delivered a petition that they hope will persuade federal authorities to change that.

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.