Factory Farming’s Effect on Rural Communities
Though only a few studies have examined the effects of factory farms on the people who live near them, a wealth of data has been gathered on the health hazards to which these facilities expose their employees. Viewed together, these two bodies of research indicate that the industry poses serious threats to the well-being of rural communities.
- Studies have discovered an increase in respiratory, neurobehavioral, and mental illnesses among the residents of communities next to factory farms. In a major study, residents in the vicinity of a large pig farm were found to have “higher reporting of headaches, runny noses, sore throats, excessive coughing, diarrhea, and burning eyes.” A separate study determined that pregnant women and children are especially susceptible to factory farm emissions.
- Waste from factory farms poses a serious risk for nearby residents. Manure and urine are generally stored in open-air pits known as lagoons. When the lagoons are full, large amounts of waste are applied to nearby land, compromising soil and water quality. Lagoons are also prone to spills, which can contaminate a community’s water.
- Manure lagoons are known to release a number of air pollutants, including methane, a major greenhouse gas, and hydrogen sulfide, which the National Institute for Occupational Safety cites as a leading cause of death in the workplace. In fact, 25 percent of workers at pig factory farms report respiratory problems, including asthma, bronchitis, and organic dust toxic syndrome.
- Evidence suggests that living near a factory farm compromises residents’ overall quality of life. Residents in towns near these farms are often forced to keep their windows closed and remain indoors due to foul odors. In a study of one town in the vicinity of a major factory farm, a third of the residents reported that their daily activities were affected by the presence of the operation. Proximity to a factory farm can also substantially decrease property values.
- A 2003 survey of rural Iowans indicated that the construction of pig factory farm in their area was less desirable to them than that of a prison, a solid waste landfill, a slaughter plant, or a sewage treatment plant.