Winneshiek County Residents Sue EPA Over Livestock Emissions
By Orlan Love, Reporter
WINNESHIEK COUNTY, Iowa - A group of Winneshiek County citizens has asked a federal court to require the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions from livestock feeding operations.
The complaint, filed Tuesday by Cedar Rapids attorney Wallace Taylor, contends that EPA’s failure to regulate such pollutants as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, commonly found in the air around livestock confinement operations, endangers public health and welfare.
An EPA spokeswoman said Wednesday the agency would review the lawsuit and respond appropriately.
“If you can smell it, your health is being affected by it,” said Bob Watson, a member of the steering committee of Winneshiek Citizens for Clean Air for Children.
The four plaintiffs – Samuel Zook, Michelle McLain-Kruse, Annette Laitinen and Birgitta Meade – all have direct relationships with North Winneshiek schools, a district whose rural school is situated near several livestock feeding operations.
The lawsuit cites dozens of scientific studies that, according to Taylor, confirm that emissions from livestock feeding operations adversely affect the health of people near the feedlots.
One 2006 study, conducted in part by Dr. Joel Kline, a physician and University of Iowa researcher, focused specifically on the North Winneshiek district and concluded that the incidence of asthma among the school’s students was more than twice as high as the incidence at a similar school more than 10 miles away from the nearest livestock feeding operation.
The study found that 19.7 percent of the North Winneshiek students had been diagnosed by a physician with asthma, while just 7.3 percent of the control group students had.
Dr. Kline said Wednesday that the study, which involved no air quality monitoring, was “suggestive but not definitive.”
Tim Dugger, superintendent and principal at North Winneshiek, said he sees no relationship between air quality and student health at his school.
“Right now we have 171 kids in preschool through eighth grade, and we have four students with the possibility of asthma,” he said.
The North Winneshiek rate of less than 3 percent compares with a rate of 9 percent for children both in Iowa and the United States. Absentee rates at the school are lower than the statewide average too, he said.
Students and staff at the school “occasionally” notice the smell of manure, “but that’s part of living in Iowa,” Dugger said.
“I’m not overly concerned about it and neither is the school board. It is what it is,” Dugger said.
Birgitta Meade, a North Winneshiek science teacher and one of the plaintiffs, smells things differently.
Manure odor was detectable on the playground during 37 percent of the days in the 2010-11 school year, and it was detectable within the building on nine days, according to a log she kept.
Taylor characterized the lawsuit as an attempt to force the EPA “to do its job as required by the federal Clean Air Act.”
It is not, he emphasized, an attempt to recover damages from or disrupt the practices of local livestock producers.
Taylor said he thinks many EPA officials are “probably somewhat sympathetic” to the plaintiffs’ position.
The agency, which has 60 days to answer the complaint, has moved cautiously on the issue because of the livestock producers’ political clout, he said.
Describing the case as a potential “landmark,” Watson said the suit, if successful, would mark the first time that the health and welfare of children has been found to “outweigh the financial interests of industrial agriculture.”
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