Monday, April 18, 2011

Environmental Groups Petition EPA to Regulate Ammonia

An organization called the Environmental Integrity Project, as well as other citizen groups from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Sierra Club, and the Waterkeeper Alliance (collectively, the "petitioners"), have petitioned Lisa P. Jackson, the administrator of the U.S. E.P.A, alleging that the EPA has failed to regulate “ammonia” under the Clean Air Act.  In particular, the petition is directed at ammonia emissions from large concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

The petitioners contend that ammonia is a “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act:

Ammonia gas, an air pollutant emitted in vast quantities by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), meets the criteria for listing as a CAA criteria pollutant, because ammonia emissions from numerous CAFOs and other sources “cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” CAA § 108. The predominantly rural nature of this pollution does not limit EPA's authority to regulate; in fact, courts have made clear that even localized, site-specific, and infrequent ambient air pollution may create a public health risk that meets the § 108 standard and therefore warrants CAA regulation.

The petitioners then allege that ammonia emissions create a public health risk:

Ammonia pollution threatens public health in numerous ways encompassed by these broad definitions. Threats to public health from ambient ammonia include increased risk of respiratory symptoms, eye and nose irritation, and other physical discomfort, as well as more severe health effects. Ammonia also contributes to the health effects of the mixture of gases in CAFO air emissions, which studies have linked to respiratory symptoms as well as headaches, nausea, and increased incidence of infant mortality. If certain communities face a disproportionate and substantial risk of adverse health effects from airborne ammonia, EPA may – and should – find that ammonia warrants regulation as a criteria pollutant. Extensive research conducted on both human and animal subjects over several decades establishes that ammonia emissions endanger human health. Indeed, several federal agencies, including EPA, have recognized this threat by establishing health standards or recommended exposure limits to protect workers and others exposed to airborne ammonia. CAFO emissions research further shows that airborne ammonia levels in some communities currently exceed relevant health benchmarks, demonstrating that ammonia is reasonably anticipated to endanger public health.

The petitioners cite to a number of studies that purport to prove the dangers of ammonia inhalation at various levels.  The petition suggests that inhalation of ammonia is dangerous for CAFO workers as well as nearby residents. 

But the petitioners do not just point the finger at "ammonia" as the public health threat.  Instead, the petition is specifically directed at ammonia emanating from CAFOs, as facilities that “release vast quantities of ammonia into the ambient air, creating a heightened health threat to communities near numerous and/or very large CAFOs.”  The petitioners assert that “CAFOs are leading contributors to the nation’s ammonia inventory; by one EPA estimate livestock account for approximately 80 percent of total emissions.  CAFOs also emit a disproportionately large share of the ammonia in certain states and communities.”

The petition also blames ammonia emissions for “deterioration of property and economic values,” and “quality of life issues.”  Likewise, the petitioners assert that ammonia emissions create an environment where many “homeowners living near CAFOs find themselves unable to sell their homes and relocate because CAFO air pollution . . . makes their home undesirable, thereby dramatically lowering its market value.”  Finally, the petitioners contend that ambient ammonia “impair[s] visibility in pristine areas.”  These alleged effects of ammonia emissions appear as nothing more than diversions from the real question about whether ambient ammonia emissions from CAFOs should be regulated "pollutants" under the CAA.  The EPA's core mission is not to protect property values or improve the desirability of residential homes.  The EPA's purpose is to protect human health and the environment.  

The petition is the latest attempt to add another level of regulation upon what is already a highly regulated industry.  Many persons who do not work with livestock producers and farmers on a day-to-day basis might read the petition and assume that CAFOs and large farms operate without any, or at least very little, oversight.  Such an assumption would be wrong.  In reality, America's large farms are already highly regulated, sophisticated enterprises.  

The petition concludes with a request to the EPA that it regulate ammonia emissions from CAFOs.  The full text of the petition can be found at:  Environmental Integrity v. EPA - Petition


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. The criteria pollutant program obliges EPA to build up air quality standards that ensure public health and the environment, and has been in charge of dramatic reductions in unsafe little particles,smog-forming chemicals, and lead pollution across the nation,sparing billions of dollars in health care costs.

    Betty Allen.


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