For most of this week those of us working CAFO issues have been hearing a cry from Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties where the ongoing torture of CAFO neighbors by air pollution is again underway. While there are many instances each year where the farmers and other rural residents find themselves sick to their stomachs or wheezing as a result of the "smell of money" from the 12 or so CAFOs in their area, this time of year as the waste lagoons are being emptied out are among the worst. My frustration is knowing that these same people have suffered the same physical insult for at least the last four years, with NO change in the actual problem -- on air quality DEQ is trying, but the laws were written by the Farm Bureau, the Ag Industrial Complex and their colleagues who expressly exempted agricultural related air quality from DEQ control without a direct referral by the Director of MDA -- so people suffer, get deathly ill, are unable to work, and lose hope.
Sure, the neighbors all ought to be on vacation, like the legislature and the media, able to travel to cool Great Lakes shorelines, where, if they are lucky, the E.coli count from the manure and other wastes upstream may be low enough to allow swimming. But since most of these folks are tied to the land, attempting to make a living growing things for sale, this is harvest time for many of them, and they don't even have the luxury of sitting inside out of the stench. Only a few have been hospitalized in the past few years -- epidemiologically it may not be all that bad. And the MDA staff are telling folks that if you only suffer unbearable stench for 18 days or less per year (5% of the time) that is what is considered acceptable by the voluntary siting and odor GAAMPs for the state – i.e., suck it up bud, we ain't gonna do nothing about it.
ECCSCM has posted a running "Stench Alerts" at http://www.nocafos.org/stench.htm -- even in the sanitized language of documentation your can feel your own gut churning to read these experiences. But the words of the people themselves tell much more. Earlier this week on Enviro-Mich Kathy Melmoth, who with her husband grows herbs and other plants that they sell at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market shared her disgust -- as a public health nurse she also talks accurately about the plague this has imposed on the people of her community.
Here are some other comments:
I say suffer repeatedly because this has been a week of suffering -- with CAFOs applying liquid manure all around on wheat stubble and hayfields. The stench, as you know, shifts with the wind. These beautiful days have had a few moments free of the stink, and when that happens, it seems miraculous. But then the wind shifts, and the smell hits like a body blow. There's a reflexive rage that I feel, that you would feel, too, if you faced this day after day. There is no excuse for one industry's pollution to compromise the well-being of so many others, to jeopardize their use of their property, their enjoyment of the outdoors, their necessary work outside. There are times people here feel like prisoners, and that was never true before the CAFOs were built. You can understand why our efforts will not stop in trying to change this system, clean it up. Today I had to leave the house on Cadmus Rd -- even with the windows shut, the stench filled the house and I couldn't work. I felt sick walking to the mailbox to pick up the paper this morning, eyes watering. I'm lucky to have a second property to go to. Most people don't. There is profound stress in not knowing when you can open a window, or when you can work in the field, or mow the yard, or plan a simple thing like taking a walk or having a picnic, without having -- at the last minute if the wind shifts--to change all plans, go inside, shut the windows. You would be furious, too, if you were riding your horse, and this stench flew in your face and in the horse's face. No one has talked about the effects on wildlife, who like us at times like these can't smell anything but livestock waste, full force in the face.
There are some days we want to quit and forget it, we yell, get angry look at each other and laugh, but we can't we have children, we are farmers getting a bad rap. We have old people that call us, crying, desperate. We may not be able to do anything but give them hope, but at least we can say we tried. I am very proud as a farmer to work with the Sierra Club. Gotta go I smell stench!
Each year as the same horror descends on these folks, and likely on other rural residents of Michigan who are not as connected and able to articulate this hell they have been thrown into, we hear the “oh my, that’s awful!” before people turn back to their own lives. It is time to permanently fix these problems, to stop acting as is rural families are disposable – heck they can move to the suburbs and not have to worry about this!
Just so you know, it is apparent no help will come from the Bush Administration, where a plan to let all CAFOs off the hook for air pollution is waiting in the wings, perhaps held back before the election because they know it could draw attention to just how bad they are on these issues. Michigan leaders owe it to the farm families of this state to stop this horror now.
Anne Woiwode, Director
Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906
ph: 517-484-2372 fx: 517-484-3108 e: email@example.com