Mobile labs measure confinement livestock barn emissions in six states


URBANA, Ill – Anyone who’s driven past a hog farm on a hot summer day can attest to the pungent odor and the gritty air – it’s hard to miss. No one likes it, and more and more people are concerned about it.

To determine just what’s in the air coming from confinement animal buildings, the USDA has sent six mobile labs to locations in six different states – all part of one of the most comprehensive studies on animal system air quality to date.

Teams spread out. The University of Illinois is one of six universities involved in the project, which has moved into its second of three years.

Yuanhui Zhang, Illinois agricultural engineer, is working on the project, along with colleagues from the University of Minnesota, North Carolina State, Purdue, Iowa State and Texas A & M.

A team from each university is collecting emission information from different commercial livestock or poultry operations.

In the hog barn. The team Zhang heads up is studying swine facilities.

“Our key objective is to try to quantify the emission rates from confinement animal buildings, in terms of dust, odor, ammonia, hydrogen sulfites and other pollutant gases,” said Zhang.

The study has been fairly rigorous, Zhang said. The first year was spent developing a monitoring system to handle the vast amount of data that will be collected.

On the road. The six identical mobile laboratories were developed for $200,000 each and will remain at their respective facilities for approximately 15 months.

“Although each team is monitoring a different facility, we want to use exactly the same equipment and procedures,” said Zhang.

“To insure quality control, we have standard operating procedures for every piece of equipment used and every measurement taken.”

Emission tests. In this second year of the study, researchers are using the mobile labs to measure the dust, odor and gas inside the different buildings, along with the flow rate of the fans used to exhaust air out of the buildings.

By correlating this information, they know how much dust, odor and gas are emitted.

They will also evaluate the differences in emissions due to geographical region, season of year, time of day, building design, growth cycle, animal species and building management.

Helping early. Currently, emissions from animal confinement facilities are not regulated.

Zhang believes the government will find this study useful when establishing regulations for pollution.

“Right now, the government is short of the kind of data it needs to develop guidelines,” said Zhang.

“For example, what is the threshold? If guidelines are too loose, they don’t mean anything, and the public isn’t really happy with that. If guidelines are too strict, you discourage business.”

As Zhang concluded, “It’s extremely important that accurate information on emissions be provided before policies are established that will significantly impact animal production in the prime agricultural areas of the country.”


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