U.S. Senate Committee on
Environment and Public Works
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Chairman
“An Examination of the Potential Human Health, Water Quality, and Other Impacts of the Confined Animal Feeding Operation Industry”
September 6, 2007
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
We are here today to hold a hearing on a critically important public health issue -- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or “CAFOs”.
CAFOs are industrialized animal production facilities, including some that can hold more than 1 million animals.
I want to ensure that there is a clear picture of the significant environmental and health issues that stem from these facilities.
There is currently a proposal that would exempt CAFOs from important environmental and public health safeguards -- in particular from the public reporting or “right to know” provisions of the Superfund law. The proposal also would eliminate provisions that ensure polluters pay to cleanup up their mess.
People deserve to have a clear understanding of the environmental threats in their communities so they can make informed decisions to protect themselves and their families.
These environmental protection laws also ensure that where there has been damage caused by these facilities – and there have been numerous instances of air and water pollution and contamination of wells and other water supplies – the parties responsible can be held accountable and pay to clean up their messes.
Proposals to weaken accountability for CAFO pollution undermine public health and the public’s right to know about pollution, and would be bad news for the American taxpayer.
Proposals to roll back environmental protections on CAFOs have sometimes been portrayed as a non-controversial issue, but in fact there have been serious consequences – including deaths – connected with CAFOs across the country.
Just this year, five people—four members of a family and a farm hand—died in Rockingham County, Virginia when the father was overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas from their dairy farm manure pit that he was trying to repair, and others died from breathing the gas while trying to save him.
The waste can increase phosphorus levels in water, causing algae blooms that can foul drinking water supplies, increase treatment costs, and cause massive fish kills.
CAFOs can create significant air pollution, including foul odors, ammonia, volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide. CAFOs’ air pollution can exceed the amounts emitted by industrial facilities.
I believe this hearing will contribute to the public’s clear understanding of the threats to environmental and health associated with these facilities.
Well managed agricultural operations can avoid serious environmental and public health consequences. Rollbacks on environmental reporting and “polluter-pays” requirements will greatly increase the risk that these facilities can pose to local communities.
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