EPA begins farm air emissions study

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced plans to begin a nationwide study to monitor air emissions from selected farms starting this winter.
Volunteer farms. These farms, which signed up for the voluntary compliance agreement last year, total 6,267 locations in 42 states and include 468 dairy, 1,856 swine, 204 egg-laying, and 40 broiler chicken operations, many of the agreements include more than one location.
Only a percentage of the farms that signed agreements will actually be monitored. The agreements were signed last year under a voluntary program where individual animal feeding operations agreed to be monitored.
EPA’s designation for an operation where animals are confined for at least 45 days out of a 12-month period with no access to grass or other growing vegetation.
Penalty. In addition to agreeing to be monitored, these operations each paid a ‘penalty’ based on the number of animals kept at the operation, and agreed to assure that the operation would be kept in compliance with provisions of the clean Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
The ‘penalties’ paid by the volunteers will now be used to pay for the monitoring, data collection and use of the data to create models.
The models will then be used to determine which farms are subject to the regulatory provisions of the Clean Air Act and the reporting requirements of Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.
Monitoring the study. The national Air Emissions Monitoring Study Protocol provides an overview of the plans for the monitoring study, which will collect air emissions data and create the models for use with each type of management regime within each type of animal production.
For example, the ‘Air Emissions Monitoring Plan for Dairy’ section acknowledges there are different types of management systems for dairy operations.
Most use natural ventilation, but an increasing number use mechanically ventilated facilities.
The monitoring plan recognizes the challenge of monitoring outside uncovered manure storage structures on dairy farms, in contrast with hog and chicken farms which usually store manure within the housing structure.
Measurement systems. Measurement of the emissions from these operations is to be conducted with a series of measurement systems that provide a concentration measurement along a path that would be representative of the emission plume from the building.
In order to estimate the emissions rate, it will be necessary to couple the concentration with a measurement of the wind flow through the building or facility.
Measurements will be taken to quantify the concentration and total emissions of ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2), and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) in various paths through the atmosphere.
In addition, particulate load in air exiting the facility will be sampled at the same locations as the above gases.
Sampling will be conducted for 24 months with data logged every 60 seconds. Data will be retrieved with networked computers, formatted, validated, and delivered to EPA as hourly averages for subsequent calculations of emissions factors.
Who designed the study? The design for the monitoring study was developed through a collaborative effort of industry experts, university scientists, and other stakeholders knowledgeable in the field.
Although the effort was facilitated by the EPA, and USDA, the protocol represents the opinions of the scientists, government experts, and stakeholders involved.
There was also extensive internal review and input from EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation and Office of Research and Development.
The process. Nonprofit control of the monitoring process will be the responsibility of the Agricultural Air Research Council.
This council will collect the funds and contract with an Independent Monitoring Contractor to conduct the air emissions study.
A science adviser will draft the EPA study design, make recommendations on farm site selections, select and advise the principal investigators, supervise a Quality Assurance Project Plan, and report and transmit data to EPA.
The subcontracted principal investigators will conduct the monitoring study at specific sites, hire and supervise technicians, and report to the science adviser.
Scientists, technicians and lab staff will collect data and transmit it to the science adviser for processing and transmitting/reporting to EPA.
The EPA will monitor progress, interpret data, and develop emissions estimating methods and guidance for producers once the study is complete.
Management staff of monitored farms will be expected to provide detailed information about rations, manure production, frequency of cleaning the facility and emptying of manure storages, along with other information that may have a bearing on gas emissions.
The equipment required and the presence of technicians and scientists will definitely affect the day-to-day operation of the farms selected.
Results. Within 18 months following the monitoring study’s conclusion, EPA will evaluate all data and publish emission-estimating methods for animal feed operations.
These methods will allow farm managers to estimate their emissions and comply with applicable federal regulatory requirements as appropriate.
This approach will achieve compliance with environmental laws much faster than any other enforcement mechanism.
According to the EPA the study will provide the best way of ensuring clean air compliance and, at the same time, will provide the best available scientific information to guide EPA’s decision-making in a way that is good for the environment, good for agriculture, and good for the American people.
I was impressed with the thoroughness of the monitoring study protocol. I believe it can result in realistic estimates of the air pollutant emissions from U.S. livestock operations.
If the independent monitoring contractor and the subcontracted principal investigators follow the protocol and achieve the measurement accuracy required.
Hopefully, the university scientists and industry experts will be able to ensure that EPA will use the data to arrive at reasonable emissions-estimating methods for use by farm managers.
More details. Do you wonder about adequate funding to get this all done?
You can read the monitoring study protocol. Follow the link to ‘More information on the AFO Air Compliance Agreement.’
As I was looking at the above link, I noticed another link right below it, ‘Citizens can help by reporting potential environmental violations,” www.epa.gov/tips.
I thought it was ironic we have not started measuring air emissions from livestock operations to get a handle on ‘what is an environmental violation’ but there is already a Web site where anyone can anonymously report potential environmental violations.
I hope you see the potential for increased scrutiny and regulation of your livestock operation in the future.
(The author is an agricultural extension educator in Columbiana County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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