Supervisor takes family’s story to D.C. subcommittee hearing

By Thomas Nelson, tnelson@charlescitypress.com

Jeff and Gail Schwartzkopf live in a rural house near Rudd, and since moving there four years ago, Gail says that she and her family have been getting more and more sick.

Floyd County Supervisor Mark Kuhn was in front of a congressional committee Thursday in Washington, D.C., to talk about animal confinement emissions, and part of his testimony included the Schwartzkopf family.

“In Iowa, it takes a good neighbor to be a good neighbor,” Kuhn told members of the Superfund, Waste Management and Regulatory Oversight Subcommittee.

The subcommittee is considering easing air emission standards for animal feeding operations. Kuhn urged members to keep the standards in effect, saying Iowa has refused to act on the problem.

(READ Supervisor Kuhn’s prepared remarks at the end of this article.)

During his written and oral testimony, Kuhn spoke about how Jeff and Gail Schwartzkopf bought a house in the country. Ninety days after they moved in, a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) was built 1,987 feet away.

The facility was built without any notice to neighbors because it was small enough to not require it.

“Once it was built and populated with thousands of squealing hogs, their lives changed forever,” Kuhn told the congressional subcommittee.

There are now large feeding operations on the east, north and south sides of their home.

“There was already one north of us,” said Schwartzkopf. “The one south of us came in three months after we moved in.”

Kuhn said, “They should be protected from toxic air emissions that impact their health and diminish their quality of life, but Iowa lawmakers refuse to act. So now it’s up to you to protect their access to toxic air emission information from CAFO’s under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).”

All of the CAFOs are visible from the Schwartzkopf’s property. From each window in their home you can see a confinement building.

“And you can smell it,” said Jeff Schwartzkopf.

The Schwartzkopfs found out about the CAFO being built from a neighbor, who came over and told them about it during a garage sale.

“We weren’t in favor of it,” Schwartzkopf said, because of the smell.

Woods Finishers, the owners of the CAFO built shortly after they moved in, want to build another one next to the CAFO already close to their home.

The CAFO permit application is from Brandon and Casey Wood of Woods Sons Inc. Neither was available to comment to the Press by the time of publication.

“They didn’t even measure for the first one, they just built it,” Schwartzkopf alleges. “These same people wanted to build this one right by Rudd because they own property over there.”

The CAFO would’ve been built there, but Marilyn Jorgensen and others spoke up and the Woods decided to not build there.

In 2016, the Woods wanted to build another CAFO next to the one that already exists south of the Schwartzkopf residence.

“A county supervisor called us and told us they were putting up a second one,” Schwartzkopf. That supervisor was Kuhn.

“The existing CAFO is 1,987 feet. The one they want to build is 1,888 feet from our bedroom window,” said Schwartzkopf in an email to the Press.

At a Floyd County Supervisor meeting on May 10, 2016, the supervisors denied the Woods application to build another confinement on the property near the Swartzkopfs, called Candon Finisher Farm Site.

Almost a year later, at a March 2017 meeting, the Swartzkopfs came to the Floyd County Supervisors again, alleging the animal confinement building owned by the Woods violates state code by being too close to an unplugged well.

 “The first time the supervisors were on our side,” Jeff Schwartzkopf said.

 The supervisors agreed to send the Schwartzkopf’s complaint to the state Department of Natural Resources.

 That same year the Woods applied for another permit. They had a deadline for construction on May 6, 2017.

 “They didn’t start digging til a day or two before May 6,” Schwartzkopf said. “They went out with a backhoe and dug up a hole and thought that was going to qualify as digging.”

 Because the Woods missed their deadline they’ll have to resubmit their application.

 The Schwartzkopfs say they are experiencing more problems than just the lingering smell of manure.

 After six months, the Swartzkopf’s outside cats began to lose lots of fur and one lost one its ears to an infection.

 The Swartzkopfs say they have started getting unexplained rashes.

 Jeff has some on his forearms, and Gail has some on her chest.

 “They’re just little red bumps,” Jeff Swartzkopf said. “They itch.”

 Their doctors don’t know what the problem is, and their doctors haven’t told them the reason for their rashes is environmental.

 “But we’ve all had stomach issues,” Gail Swartzkopf said. “I don’t mean a little upset stomach. I mean ongoing issues, like urinary issues ever since we’ve moved here and we’ve never had them before and we’ve lived on a farm for 26 years.”

 The stomach issues are so severe that Swartzkopf’s youngest son, who lives with them, hasn’t been able to go to work regularly.

 Kuhn told the subcommittee about the health issues the Swartzkopfs say they have  experienced.

 “We can’t open our windows or hang our clothes on the line to dry. There are only five or six days a month when it doesn’t smell like rotten eggs,” Gail Swartzkopf told Kuhn.

“I know how important it is to monitor dangerous air emissions from CAFOs and why results from that monitoring should be required under EPCRA,” Kuhn said.

Concentrated animal feeding operations are present around rural Iowa and if they are above a certain size they they need to get state approval before being built.

Counties can pass a resolution every year to use what is known as the Iowa Master Matrix that scores applications to see if they meet minimum environmental standards.

The system has been around, unchanged, since 2004.

“Iowa is the nation’s leading pork and egg producer, and ranks second nationally in red meat production,” said Kuhn. “There are 22.4 million hogs (almost 32 percent of the nation’s total), 3.9 million cattle, 60 million chickens, and 11.7 million turkeys raised in Iowa. The livestock industry is vital to Iowa’s economy, he said in his testimony before the subcommittee.

In 2001, while concerns about manure’s impact on health and environment were stirring, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack had the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University and the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa provide guidance about the impact of air quality surrounding CAFOs and recommend methods to reduce and minimize emissions, Kuhn said.

“Based on an analysis of peer-reviewed, duplicated, legitimate, and published scientific research, the consensus of the entire study group was that hydrogen sulfide and ammonia should be considered for regulatory action,” Kuhn said.

“Both of these gases have been measured in the general vicinity of livestock operations at concentrations of potential health concern for rural residents, under prolonged exposure.”

Kuhn sited hydrogen sulfide and ammonia as the leading gases that could lead to harmful effects after prolonged exposure.

“It was recommended that each CAFO have up to seven days (with 48 hours notice) each calendar year to exceed those concentrations to allow for manure application to the land,” Kuhn said.

While a member of the Iowa Legislature, Kuhn said, he witnessed first hand the failed attempts to regulate air emissions in 2003 and 2004.

“Iowa has four times as many CAFO’s as it did then, and the pork industry is about to go ‘hog wild’ again,” Kuhn said. “An unprecedented increase in packing plant capacity in Iowa fueled by the demand for exported pork to China, will likely result in an onslaught of new CAFO’s.”

The last thing Swartzkopf told Kuhn before he left for Washington, D.C., was, “I wish this picture was ‘scratch and sniff’ so all of those Senators could partake of the toxic emissions and polluted air, if only for a little while.”


Written testimony of Floyd County, Iowa Board of Supervisor member Mark Kuhn delivered on March 8, 2018, to the Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works regarding S. 2421, the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act.

**************

Thank you, Chairman Rounds and Ranking Member Booker, for inviting me to testify before the Subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight regarding S. 2421, the Fair Agricultural Reporting Method Act.

I am a farmer and current member of the Board of Supervisors from Floyd County, Iowa. I served six terms as a state representative and was one of 12 legislators who drafted the last change to Iowa’s concentrated animal feeding law in 2002.

In Iowa, it takes a good neighbor to be a good neighbor. I’ll begin my written testimony with the story of one good neighbor family in Floyd County.

Jeff and Gail Schwartzkopf bought a house in the country near the small town of Rudd four years ago. Thirty days after they moved into their new home they learned a large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) was going up 1,987 feet from them. Once it was built and populated with thousands of squealing hogs, their lives changed forever.

According to Gail, “We tried to make the best of it, but nothing worked. We stopped enjoying the outdoors. We hate the stench, the biting flies, our burning eyes, scratchy throat, fatigue, digestive issues, and insomnia because we are worried about our health. We can’t open our windows or hang our clothes on the line to dry. There are only five or six days a month when it doesn’t smell like ‘rotten eggs.’”

The Schwartzkopf family is surrounded by three large CAFO’s. They should be protected from toxic air emissions that impact their health and diminish their quality of life, but Iowa lawmakers refuse to act. So now it’s up to you to protect their access to toxic air emission information from CAFO’s under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).

I know how important it is to monitor dangerous air emissions from CAFO’s and why results from that monitoring should be required under EPCRA.

Iowa is the nation’s leading pork and egg producer, and ranks second nationally in red meat production. There are 22.4 million hogs (almost 32 percent of the nation’s total), 3.9 million cattle, 60 million chickens, and 11.7 million turkeys raised in Iowa. The livestock industry is vital to Iowa’s economy.

According to Iowa State University, Iowa hogs, cattle and poultry produce a combined total of 50 million tons of manure every year.

Amid growing concerns about manure’s impact on public health and the environment in 2001, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack asked the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University and the College of Public Health at the University of Iowa to provide guidance regarding the impact of air quality surrounding CAFO’s on Iowans and recommended methods for reducing and/or minimizing emissions.

(See Appendix 1 — Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Air Quality Study, Executive Summary) —  www.public-health.uiowa.edu/ehsrc/CAFOstudy/CAFO_1.pdf

Based on an analysis of peer-reviewed, duplicated, legitimate, and published scientific research, the consensus of the entire study group was that hydrogen sulfide and ammonia should be considered for regulatory action. Both of these gases have been measured in the general vicinity of livestock operations at concentrations of potential health concern for rural residents, under prolonged exposure.

Hydrogen Sulfide — It was recommended that hydrogen sulfide, measured at the CAFO property line, not exceed 70 parts per billion (ppb) for a 1-hour time weighted average (TWA) period. In addition, the concentration at a residence or public use area shall not exceed 15 ppb.

Ammonia — It was recommended that ammonia, measured at the CAFO property line, not exceed 500 ppb for a 1-hour TWA period. The concentration at a residence or public use area shall not exceed 150 ppb.

It was recommended that each CAFO have up to seven days (with 48 hours’ notice) each calendar year to exceed those concentrations to allow for manure application to the land.

In April 2002, the Iowa Legislature approved and Governor Tom Vilsack signed into law new livestock regulations which gave the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) authority to develop air quality rules. I voted for this legislation because I was convinced that for the first time, the Legislature was committed to doing something about dangerous air emissions from CAFO’s.

In July 2002, Iowa’s Environmental Protection Committee (EPC) approved the ambient air quality standards recommended in the Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Air Quality Study. The Iowa DNR held public hearings throughout the state to collect public comment on the proposed rules.

On April 21, 2003, the EPC approved a second version of the ambient air quality standards despite objections from the CAFO industry. The approved level for hydrogen sulfide was 15 ppb measured at the property line.

On April 30, 2003 the Iowa Legislature nullified the EPC rules which prevented the DNR from implementing air quality rules.

In January 2004, the EPC approved a third proposed rule that would have established a standard of 15 ppb for hydrogen sulfide with the ability to monitor within 900 feet of the separated distance.

In response to opposition to this proposed rule, Iowa’s livestock industry introduced through friendly legislators, a bill setting hydrogen sulfide emissions at 70 ppb enforced at the separated distance.

I voted against the bill that was passed by the Legislature, and vetoed by Governor Vilsack. In his veto message Vilsack stated the bill represented a significant step backwards because it would not have adequately protected the health of Iowans, and it would have set a standard so lenient that it would undermine the credibility of the CAFO industry.

Despite failed attempts to pass meaningful air emission standards to protect the health of Iowans, nothing has changed in Iowa since Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Air Quality Study was released 16 years ago, with two key exceptions.

Iowa has four times as many CAFO’s as it did then, and the pork industry is about to go ‘hog wild’ again. An unprecedented increase in packing plant capacity in Iowa fueled by the demand for exported pork to China, will likely result in an onslaught of new CAFO’s.

Last September, Seaboard Triumph Foods opened a packing plant in Sioux City, Iowa ,where it slaughters 10,500 hogs per day with plans to add a second shift to increase the kill to twice that number. Prestage Foods of Iowa plans to open its packing plant near Eagle Grove, Iowa, in November 2018 and start processing 10,000 hogs a day.

It is clear to me that the CAFO industry is opposed to any new air emission regulations. It intends to continue ‘business as usual’ as long as state elected officials in Iowa allow it.

This isn’t a rural vs. urban issue. It affects all Iowans. It pits neighbor vs. neighbor. All too often, it pits farmer vs. farmer. Please be assured small family farms will not be affected by any air emission reporting requirements. The CAFO industry in Iowa is industrialized, factory farm agriculture. It is vertically integrated from top to bottom. Giant corporations get the profits from the hogs they own and process at their packing plants; local farmers build the barns and get the manure; while neighbors get the pollution.

A preponderance of evidence shows that toxic air emissions from CAFO’s can adversely affect immediate neighbors and nearby communities. Those with allergies, asthmatics — especially children in which asthma is more common — and adults with COPD are at particular risk.

I find it very alarming that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a guidance document entitled ‘Does EPA interpret EPCRA Section 304 to require farms to report releases from animal waste?’

(See Appendix 2 — EPA Guidance on EPCRA) — www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-10/documents/web document placeholder.pdf

If the EPA conducts a rulemaking as outlined in their guidance document, it will have dire consequences for ‘good neighbors’ like the Schwartzkopf’s.

To understand the effect of such a rule on Iowans, you need to know about a bill passed by the Iowa Legislature and signed into law by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad in 2017.

According to a January 2018 report published by The Iowa Policy Project and authored by James Merchant and David Osterberg, “The new law limits damages that can be awarded to a person who wins a lawsuit against an animal feeding operation, under a claim that the CAFO is a public or private nuisance or an interference with another person’s “comfortable use and enjoyment of the person’s life or property.” The new law limits damages that can be awarded to a person impacted by a CAFO to (a) any actual reduction in property value caused by the facility, (b) past, present, and future adverse health impacts as determined by objectively documented medical evidence and proven to be caused by the facility, and (c) any award for damages due to annoyance and the loss of comfortable use and enjoyment of the property to 1.5 times the sum of the property value and objective medical evidence of deterioration of health. By requiring “objectively documented medical evidence and proven to be caused by the facility” in question, this new law seeks to eliminate consideration of the substantial literature on CAFO exposures and causation of adverse health effect, disease and impairment.”

EPCRA provides an essential safety net for protecting the air Iowans breathe. If the EPA eliminates EPCRA air emission requirements by rule, ‘good neighbors’ like the Schwartzkopf’s will not be able to obtain toxic air emission reports, not be able to access information to provide their medical provider about their health issues, and be denied any chance for justice in Iowa against the powerful CAFO industry.

This is a picture of Gail and her family and the view from the Schwartzkopf’s front yard.

The last thing Gail told me before I left for Washington, D.C. was, “I wish this picture was ‘scratch and sniff’ so all of those Senators could partake of the toxic emissions and polluted air, if only for a little while.”

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY