A group of Nebraskans, concerned about “the byproducts of livestock operations intruding into their lives,” opposes the idea that hydrogen sulfide (fart gas) and ammonia (piss) emissions from stockyard operations be labeled “non-emergency” and made exempt from EPA reporting requirements. (read the article)
There’s no love lost between myself and the EPA, but I know the stench of fanatical activism (as opposed to activism) when I smell it. What these individuals are objecting to is the smell of the barnyard – something I grew up with, being raised in rural Washington state. What they are asking comes more clearly into focus when we take note of the two “offending” substances:
Hydrogen sulfide: Is a poisonous gas. Heavier than air, it tends to accumulate at the low-point of poorly ventilated spaces. It is also flammable, in sufficient concentrations. Ever been to Yellowstone? Ever cut an “eggy” fart? Hydrogen sulfide. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set an acceptable ceiling limit for hydrogen sulfide of 20 parts hydrogen sulfide per 1 million parts of air (20 ppm) in the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends a 10-minute ceiling limit of 10 ppm in the workplace.
Let’s look at the effects of exposure to hydrogen sulfide at various concentrations:
- 0.0047 ppm is the recognition threshold, the concentration at which 50% of humans can detect the characteristic odor of hydrogen sulfide , normally described as resembling “a rotten egg”.
- 10-20 ppm [the OSHA and NIOSH cutoff] is the borderline concentration for eye irritation.
- 50-100 ppm leads to eye damage.
- At 150-250 ppm the olfactory nerve is paralyzed after a few inhalations, and the sense of smell disappears, often together with awareness of danger,
- 320-530 ppm leads to pulmonary edema with the possibility of death.
- 530-1000 ppm causes strong stimulation of the central nervous system and rapid breathing, leading to loss of breathing;
- 800 ppm is the lethal concentration for 50% of humans for 5 minutes exposure(LC50).
- Concentrations over 1000 ppm cause immediate collapse with loss of breathing, even after inhalation of a single breath.
As for the smell of ammonia: yes, it is irritating to the lungs, throat, eyes, and the sinuses. In high enough concentrations, damaging or fatal.
The central question here is do emissions of these two substances, within a certain distance of livestock operations, consistently exceed OSHA limits and/or significantly impact the health and well-being of any human beings within that critical range? The article doesn’t answer the question, but my gut feeling (having been around a lot of cowshit/piss in my life and occasionally downwind from large operations) is, NO.
All the “evidence” we are provided with comes from Ed Hopkins of the Sierra Club, Washington branch, “There’s no evidence whatsoever that ammonia or hydrogen sulfide from confined animal feeding operations are any less dangerous than from any other facility.”
Comment: Which facilities are we talking about, here? How “dangerous” are the potential emissions from those facilities? Are we even talking about the same kind of emissions? Or are we simply lumping dioxin and CO2 and “eau de cow arse” together, as “nasty things?”
Whatever the case, the single largest emitter of hydrogen sulfide is the petroleum industry.
Finally, legislation should not be based on a paucity of evidence (“there’s no evidence”), but on a wealth of evidence. I’d have a lot more confidence in Ed Hopkins’ proclamations if he included quanitative information showing a consistent concentration above 20ppm, within a certain range of livestock operations, or if there was an elevated incidence of people spontaneously losing consciousness, getting conjunctivitis, going blind, or experiencing intractable respiratory conditions in the Nebraska countryside. And if he refrained from bringing up the conspiracy theorist crapola that “the EPA made the announcement during the holiday season to keep the proposal under the radar.” I’ve smelled that particular brand of brain-flatulence too many times for it to carry much weight with me, at all.
A much more troubling issue related to livestock operations is the contamination of streams and groundwater from manure lagoons, and the potential impact upon the environment and human health and well-being. Although I would certainly side with the activists on the matter of stockyard emissions, if it could be definitely shown that concentrations of the offending substances in the vicinity of cattle operations routinely exceeds the safe margins.