WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - An animal agriculture clean air consortium selected a Purdue University agricultural engineer to lead a national $9 million study to help the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establish air emissions standards for the livestock and poultry industries.
Dust, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and other air emissions from animal facilities are difficult to measure, making agricultural air quality an issue as livestock operations consolidate and more people move from cities to rural areas, said Al Heber, professor of agricultural and biological engineering.
Heber will be the lead researcher for the two-year air study required by the Animal Feeding Operation Consent Agreement, published Jan. 31 in the Federal Register. Study protocols were developed jointly with scientists from the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, numerous universities and others. Contract terms for the study are now being reviewed.
Part of the difficulty with livestock air emissions is that limited data exist to help farmers or regulatory agencies determine which kinds and sizes of operations and types of management practices might produce emissions exceeding legal limits, Heber said.
"Without good baseline data on emissions, we run the risk of having regulations shaped by untimely political and societal pressures without essential facts," he said. "The issues surrounding agricultural air emissions are complex and affect many different stakeholders. We need to discover how science can help develop fair and accurate air quality regulations."
To conduct the study, Heber will recruit scientists from additional universities and deploy monitoring teams with fully equipped mobile labs. They will collect data at selected farms continuously over a 24-month period on particulate matter emissions, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds. Outdoor manure storage facilities also will be monitored.
The mobile labs are trailers outfitted with gas analyzers, pollutant detectors, weather stations and other equipment, which record data on air samples drawn from various locations inside and outside livestock facilities. Data also will be collected on animal size and number, nutrient content of their diet and manure, climate, and routine farm operations that might affect air emissions.
"What's unique about this study is that it will provide continuous, long-term measurements of emissions coming from barns, plus periodic measurements of lagoons and other manure storage facilities," Heber said.
Mobile labs and manure storage monitoring will be established at egg, swine, dairy, broiler hen and turkey facilities, and separate data sets will be developed for each species. EPA officials will use the data to help develop air emissions standards for the livestock industry.
"The EPA will be able to see how emissions change with time of day and season in combination with other factors and incorporate that information into the regulations the agency develops," he said. "Studying emissions from existing commercial facilities is the best way to gather data that will, in the long term, address air quality and other environmental concerns."
Heber has led several studies of practices to control odor, gas and dust emissions from livestock barns and waste storage facilities. He runs one of the only odor labs in the United States and directs Purdue's Agricultural Air Quality Laboratory.
As part of the project, Heber will create and maintain a Web site with information to let the public know how the study is progressing. Odor abatement will not be part of the national study.
Under this agreement, the Agricultural Air Research Council, a non-profit entity, will fund the emissions monitoring research with contributions from the National Pork Board, American Egg Board and other sources.
The EPA regulates emissions of some air pollutants produced by livestock facilities under the Clean Air Act (CAA); the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund; and the Environmental Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA).
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