Ochiltree county CAFOs

Corporate Hog Farming
in the Texas Panhandle

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Swine The Texas Panhandle has long been known for its expansive cattle industry and the associated air quality issues from the large number of cattle feedlots located there. But in recent years the state has opened its doors to a new class of CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) pollution from industrialized hog facilities, which are now also concentrating in the region.

While residents in the Panhandle have suffered for years from exposure to nuisance dust and odor from cattle feedlots, they now also find themselves surrounded by huge industrialized hog farms. Three-quarters of all hogs produced in Texas are located in the Panhandle,(1) exacerbating CAFO-related health problems among residents and adding to the animal waste problem that already exists. This week's tour stop takes us to the Texas Panhandle for an interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, a member of Accord, a local citizens group working to protect their homes from corporate hog farming in Toxic Texas.

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Texas Welcomes
Corporate Hog Farming

In the 1990s, many states began to recognize the environmental impacts of swine CAFOs and started putting limits on how these facilities could operate. Some states even banned new hog facilities from locating in their states.(2) In response, corporate hog producers looked for new hog-friendly sites and soon discovered that Texas offered much of what they were looking for: expansive land for building large facilities, few environmental restrictions for CAFOs, and encouragement from state leaders to relocate, especially in the Panhandle.

The movement of large corporate hog producers to Texas is occurring at a rapid pace. In 1994 the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) granted a permit to Premium Standard Farms, a large corporate hog producer, to operate one site in Dallam County with up to 925,000 hogs. Two years later Premium Standard Farms opened another site in Dallam County with a capacity for an additional quarter-million animals. In 1996, Texas Farm Inc. was permitted to open a facility in Ochiltree County with a capacity for almost 250,000 hogs, despite an outpouring of public opposition. And in 1997 the state issued three permits to Vall, Inc., a multi-national hog producer, to house up to 54,000 animals in the Panhandle's Sherman County. Last year, Vall, Inc. was granted permits for two more facilities in Sherman County that can house up to 97,200 hogs.(3)

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Featured in our interview is Jeanne Gramstorff, a member of Accord.

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Swine CAFOs Exacerbate Pollution and Health Problems in the Panhandle

Pig stalls Hogs raised in large, industrialized facilities are generally confined from birth until slaughter. Jeanne Gramstorff, a local resident, said "The pigs never see the light of day; they never touch the ground… they are born in pig factories… they are just a factory to produce pork".(4) Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions take their toll on the animals-approximately 5% of Texas-raised hogs never make it to market due to illness and death.(5) Those animals that do survive live confined in pens with slotted floors, which allow their waste to drop through to a gutter or tank below. The waste is flushed through with water and is channeled to an open lagoon. According to Jeanne Gramstorff, one area CAFO has six liquid waste lagoons, with "Each lagoon is more than 200 acres".(6)

Some facilities may first separate liquid waste from solid waste, but other hog CAFOs flush directly to the lagoon, literally creating a lake of water, feces, and urine. And since some of the largest farms produce hundreds of thousands of hogs each year, noxious odors and environmental contamination from excess waste and improper waste management are a constant threat. People in the area are worried about pollution of their drinking water, Jeanne Gramstorff said, "We are very concerned about our water supply… the Ogallala (aquifer) is our sole source of water. There have been traces of pesticides found in recent years… and contaminates from the PANTEX (nuclear weapons facility) plant".(7)

Pig Ponds Odors from hog facilities create health problems for the animals, nearby residents, and CAFO employees alike. Manure waste captured in gutters and tanks below the barns decomposes and releases gases such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and methane. CAFO employees report health effects such as respiratory irritation, headaches, and diarrhea due to constant exposure to these gases. Airborne bacteria and dust also affect worker and animal health. And constant odor from ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions threatens the quality of life in the region by affecting the physical and emotional well being of nearby residents.(8) Jeanne Gramstorff noted that, "Disease is communicable between pigs and humans -(and) people find they have allergies who never had them before when they got these odors from the pig operations".(9)

TNRCC Turns Its Back on Local Concerns

Rapid growth of the swine industry in the Panhandle has caused alarm among local residents who see their quality of life deteriorating. Communities and environmental groups regularly protest to TNRCC when hog producers apply for new operating permits. When Vall, Inc. applied for its two new permits in 1999, several parties protested, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which expressed concerns over how Vall, Inc.'s waste management practices might affect certain threatened bird and fish species in the region. A contested case hearing was requested, however the Director of TNRCC did not support the request and the permits were granted within three months.(10)

This action followed TNRCC's precedent for catering to CAFOS which had already been established years earlier. In 1995, the agency streamlined the permit process for animal facilities under its "Sub-Chapter K" rules. These rules effectively restricted the ability of citizens to contest new permit applications because it only allowed for consideration of those concerns, which had "technical merit." If a resident or party could not demonstrate the "technical merit" of their concerns with respect to the facility, then TNRCC would no longer take their comments into consideration when deciding whether or not to award the permit.(11)

Soon after the new rules were implemented, Texas Farm Inc. applied for the permit for its 249,600-hog capacity operation in Ochiltree County. Worried residents expressed concern over the impact of the facility, including fears that the hog operation would create strong odors, contaminate the Ogallala Aquifer and nearby creeks, and decrease their property values. Many residents joined together to form ACCORD-Active Citizens Concerned Over Resource Development-and submitted lengthy comments to TNRCC to protest the permit.(12)

Members of ACCORD
Members of ACCORD

Under the new Sub-Chapter K rules, TNRCC determined that all of the citizen concerns lacked "technical merit" and went on to approve the Texas Farm hog permit. ACCORD then filed a lawsuit against TNRCC and a District Judge eventually ruled in favor of ACCORD, expressing particular concern over TNRCC's elimination of the contested case hearing process.(13) With its rules now invalidated by the court, TNRCC proposed and adopted new rules ("Sub-Chapter B") in 1999, again to much citizen protest. Many feel that the latest rules side step the court ruling and simply re-implement a watered-down version of the invalidated Sub-Chapter K rules.

Meanwhile, Texas Farms and other industrialized hog facilities in the Panhandle continue to operate with minimal oversight from TNRCC. Saying that the TNRCC hasn't done its job to protect the citizens of the area, Jeanne Gramstorff said, "They never actually acted as though farmers or the people who live near these operations have any rights at all".(14)

Residents complain about odors from ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, but the agency does not regularly monitor the CAFOs for gas emissions. However, on rare occasions where air quality monitoring has been conducted, excessive gas emissions have been detected. Lack of water pollution monitoring is also a problem, Jeanne Gramstorff said "These open lagoons have no lining, the water just seeps out of the lagoon into the ground… we asked the TNRCC to enforce monitoring… They don't think it's important…and they do not require lining of these open cesspools".(15)

Sampling In 1998 and 1999, the Amarillo regional office of TNRCC conducted a series of air monitoring tests near hog farms, feedlots, and slaughterhouses in the area. Investigators sampled the air at the border between one of Texas Farm Inc.'s hog facilities and the adjoining private property. They found that the ammonia concentration in the sampled air was almost nine times higher than TNRCC's "health-based effects screening level," or ESL. TNRCC defines ESL's for various emissions as a benchmark for possible health effects and the investigators determined that exposure to the level of ammonia near the Texas Farm facility "may cause respiratory irritation" in some individuals. In its air testing for hydrogen sulfide, the agency also noted strong offensive odors. They found that some swine facilities, including a Texas Farm site, exceeded their defined "odor threshold range," a level at which most individuals can discern an odor.(16)

While these findings confirm many of the complaints made by local residents, the agency has done little to address the problem. In three important ways, the agency has turned its back on local residents' concerns:

  1. TNRCC's complex odor investigation procedures often work in favor of the CAFOs by making it difficult to document odor violations when they occur.
  2. Existing regulations are weak in their requirements for odor abatement and manure management procedures, heightening the threat of air and water contamination.
  3. Lenient permitting of new hog operations allows the industry to continue its expansion in the region.

Sadly, some residents pack up and leave rather than face the health effects and a deteriorating quality of life. But with no end in sight to the industry's expansion, the Panhandle just may find itself home to a few more hogs and a few less Texans in the years to come.

Join Texas PEER soon for another stop on the Texas Toxic Tour.

Sources:

  1. Texas Agricultural Statistics Service, "1998 Hog & Pig District Estimates."
  2. Mississippi Senate Bill 2895 (1998); General Assembly of North Carolina, House Bill 515 (The Clean Water Responsibility and Environmentally Sound Policy Act, 1997); Georgia Board of Natural Resources, "Resolution Regarding Large Hog Producing Operations in Georgia," January 27, 1999.
  3. TNRCC, CAFO permits database printout. Data provided by TNRCC, March 2000; TPDES Permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, Vall, Inc., Permit No. 04087, August 12, 1999; TPDES Permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, Vall, Inc., Permit No. 04105, August 24, 1999.
  4. Interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, Spring 2000
  5. Texas Agricultural Statistics Service, "Texas Hogs: Inventory, Pig Crop and Disposition, 1994-99," in: 1998 Texas Agricultural Statistics Bulletin, p. 64 (Compiled by Texas Agricultural Statistics Service).
  6. Interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, Spring 2000
  7. Interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, Spring 2000
  8. Donham, Kelley J., "Potential Health Hazards to Agricultural Workers in Swine Confinement Buildings," Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 19 (1977), pp. 385-386; Donham, Kelley J., et al. "Acute Toxic Exposure to Gases from Liquid Manure," Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 24, No. 2 (February 1982); Lorimor, Jeff, Charles V. Schwab, and Laura Miller, "Manure Storage Poses Invisible Risks," ISU Extension Publication # Pm-1518k (February 1994); Donham, Kelley J., "Association of environmental air contaminants with disease and productivity in swine," American Journal of Veterinary Research, Vol. 52, No. 10 (October 1991); Reynolds, Stephen J., et al, "Air quality assessments in the vicinity of swine production facilities," Journal of Agromedicine, Vol. 4, No. 1/2 (1997); Wing, Steve and Susanne Wolf, "Intensive Livestock Operations, Health and Quality of Life Among Eastern North Carolina Residents," Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 108, No. 3 (March 2000).
  9. Interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, Spring 2000
  10. TNRCC, "Executive Director's Response to Public Comments," Application by Vall, Inc. for Permit No. 04087, Docket No. 1999-0859-AGR, July 30, 1999; TNRCC, "The Office of Public Interest Counsel's Response to Request for Hearing in the Matter of the Application by Vall, Inc. for TPDES Permit No. 04087," TNRCC Docket No. 1999-0859-AGR; TNRCC, "Executive Director's Response to Hearing Requests," Application by Vall, Inc. for Permit No. 04087, Docket No. 1999-0859-AGR, July 22, 1999.
  11. TNRCC, "Common Questions and Answers Concerning Subchapter K," April 28, 1997.
  12. Letter to Donnie Dendy from Darrell Williams, TNRCC, RE: Texas Farm, Inc., Application for Permit-by-Rule No. 03876, Ochiltree County, December 28, 1995 (incl. attachment: "Summary of Comments and Responses for Texas Farm, Inc., Subchapter K Application No. 03876").
  13. Krishna, Hari and Clifton Wise, "Update on State Rules for Animal Waste Management," Texas Animal Manure Management Conference (Austin, Texas, September 9-11, 1999), pp. 3-4.
  14. Interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, Spring 2000
  15. Interview with Jeanne Gramstorff, Spring 2000
  16. TNRCC Interoffice Memorandum from Laurel Carlisle, Toxicology & Risk Assessment Section, Chief Engineer's Office to Brad Jones, Director, TNRCC Region 1, Amarillo, re: "Toxicological Evaluation of Air Monitoring Results, Hydrogen Sulfide and Ammonia, Concentrated Feeding Operations, Ochiltree County, August 13-18, 1998," November 19, 1998, p. 1; TNRCC Interoffice Memorandum from Janet Pichette, Toxicology & Risk Assessment Section, to Brad Jones, Director, TNRCC Region 1, Amarillo, re: "Toxicological Evaluation of Mobile Air Monitoring Results, Hydrogen Sulfide and Ammonia, Amarillo and Lubbock Regions, August 9-17, 1999," December 2, 1999, p. 2; TNRCC Interoffice Memorandum to JoAnn Wiersema, Toxicology and Risk Assessment Section, from David Carmichael, Laboratory and Mobile Monitoring Section, Re: Correction to Reported Ammonia Sampling Results, February 1, 2000.
 
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