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E-M:/ Report on DEQ Hearing on CAFO NPDES General Permit, Part 1 of 3


FRIENDS:  Here is my summary of the extraordinary range of testimony given last Thursday in a hearing before the DEQ on the proposed new water quality permit for industrial livestock operations (aka concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs).  Sorry for it being delayed -- it bounced because it was too long, so now it is in 3 parts -- Anne Woiwode


Last night people from throughout the southern half of Michigan turned out to testify in a DEQ hearing on a proposed new, strengthened water quality general permit for industrial livestock operations (legally known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs). Nineteen people, including public health experts, farmers, elected township officials, watershed organization representatives, and volunteers and staff with Sierra Club, MEC and Clean Water Action, testified in favor of a stronger permit than proposed by the DEQ, while a Farm Bureau staffer and three owners of hog and turkey operations, who own 32 of the state’s 178 listed CAFOs between them, called for either no permits or keeping the current system that puts most industrial livestock operations under a voluntary compliance program instead of permitting.  Below is a list of some highlights from the comments offered:


-          Public health concerns:

o        Tess Karwoski of the Michigan Environmental Council discussed the concerns about the impact of pollutants of industrial livestock operations on the health of children and the elderly.  Tess noted the positions of the Center for Disease Control, the American Public Health Association and the Michigan State Medical Society that recognize the threats to public health from the pathogens released by these facilities.  Water borne diseases in humans are caused by the types of pathogens present in wastes from industrial livestock operations, while the use of large amounts of antibiotics in these facilities promotes antibiotic resistance of these very pathogens that pose a threat.  She noted that the proposed monitoring for possible discharges in the permit was solely visual, when many of these pathogens have no color or odor, and called for stronger monitoring requirements for all suspected contaminants.  Tess urged a stricter precautionary approach and stronger controls in regulating industrial livestock facilities.

o        Kathy Melmoth of Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan who is a public health nurse and a farmer talked about her personal observations of the impact on the health of her neighbors caused by pollution from industrial livestock operations around the dozen facilities outside of Hudson, MI.  Kathy was one of the principals in the extensive testing conducted by ECCSCM during a two year period that showed time and time again extensive pollution with E.coli bacteria downstream from the facilities.  She also noted the findings of testing conducted by MSU’s Dr. Joan Rose showing both cryptosporidium and giardia downstream from some of the industrial livestock operations in this area.  Kathy discussed her conversations with a local family physician who treats many of her neighbors, who has concerns about respiratory impacts he has seen and was aware of cryptosporidiosis in one child that may have come from this area.  Kathy said the proposed permit is not adequate to protect public health, especially for children and the elderly. She also called for better enforcement and said the DEQ must be willing to close industrial livestock facilities based on the violations of the Clean Water Act they have caused.

o        In a simple show of the problem, Lynn Henning with both ECCSCM and Sierra Club placed a bottle of water collected that day downstream from an industrial livestock operation that has been operating and turned in for violations repeatedly for at least four years.  When the black sediment in the water settled, a large quantity of blood worms could be seen writhing in the jar.  One other testifier suggested that perhaps the only people who would even think about drinking this water would be the operators.


-          Economic impacts/Local community concerns

o        Jeff van Nortwick, who described his home as “surrounded” by an industrial livestock operation, noted that any permit must assure the protection of the property rights of those near the facilities.  His wetland, at the headwaters of Spring Brook, is shared with the facility and has been “systematically destroyed” by the leachate and nutrients running off from the surrounding fields.  Jeff said local residents and local township officials have a right to know and to speak in order to protect their rights and safeguard the environment.  He called for local units to be given authority to enforce provisions of both the Right to Farm Act in order to protect their communities.

o        Clay Kelterborn, Supervisor for Lake Township in Huron County, talked about the impact on land uses of the large number of industrial livestock operations in their community.  He noted that their township has watched as the quality of the waters in their area have dramatically declined as the facilities have gone in right next to waterways.  Clay called for all facilities to be required to have individual permits, getting critical information to public up front, and more oversight of these kinds of land uses.

o        Val McCallum, the Township Clerk for Lake Township in Huron County pointed out that Huron County has 93 miles of shoreline and more than 20 industrial livestock operations.  She noted that 11 of the 28 townships in Huron County have adopted a resolution opposing new industrial livestock operations until comprehensive water testing has been completed in the area.  When no one at the state responded, they worked with the US Geological Service to get testing done, which confirmed the presence of bacteria associated with cattle in the waters of their area.  Contamination has led to the closing of beaches, effecting recreational activities and health.  Val asked if we need to have an epidemic before the DEQ will act to properly regulate these facilities?  She called for a stronger permit, better enforcement and better training for DEQ staff.

o        Gayle Miller of Sierra Club talked about her first encounter with industrial livestock operations about five years ago in Clinton County, when she was interviewing residents and learned of the terrible problems they were facing.  “CAFOs are not farms and farms are not CAFOs.”  She said that these are heavy industry and should be treated that way, and that they are not suffering financially, with more than $50 million in subsidies to Michigan CAFO operators from just federal sources, and exemption from the Michigan Single Business Tax. 


-          Requiring all information to be provided and giving public access to information

o        Many people testified in favor of requiring that Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans be provided as part of the permit, which is not in the current draft for the permit. 

o        Gayle Miller dismissed the concern that public disclosure would lead to terrorist threats to the food system, noting that anyone with web access to aerial photos can figure out where these industrial livestock operations are housed.

o        Lynn Henning with Sierra Club provided a long list of questions about the permit, citing many specific information needs that must be provided to the DEQ and the public before a good decision could be made about whether to issue a permit.






Anne Woiwode, State Director

Sierra Club Mackinac (Michigan) Chapter

109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906

517-484-2372   fax 517-484-3108

Enjoy, Explore and Protect -  www.michigan.sierraclub.org