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All right, you city folk, buckle up, because I’m about to take you on a ride out into the country to find out about a battle that’s brewing.  A group of Missourians is girding to fight more than City Hall.  Citizens near the state parks in Arrow Rock, Roaring River and Battle of Athens are about to sue the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the state of Missouri over CAFOs (contained animal feeding operations).

The dispute began when landowners applied for CAFO licenses near those three state parks, and the DNR supported them at every turn against the objections of other locals.  After all, a farm with 4800 hogs or 65,000 chickens stinks to high heaven.  And aside from their own preferences about not having to live with that stench, many local landowners get their livelihood from the tourist industry in and around the state parks.  (“Hey, Joe, what say we go down to Roaring River this weekend for some trout fishing?”  “Sure.  Sounds good.”  “It is good, long as you don’t mind smelling chicken shit while you’re casting.”  “Um, no thanks.”)

Roaring River State Park (the lodge is pictured above), in the southwest corner of the state, is a premier trout fishing site with a hatchery near the spring that feeds the stream.  A local family, under contract with George’s Processing, Inc., a poultry company with facilities throughout northern Arkansas and southwest Missouri, applied for a license for a 65,600 chicken CAFO on the uplands above the spring, about a mile from the park boundaries.  The DNR quickly granted the Ozbuns permission to begin building, despite community concerns about what would happen if the toxins from all that chicken poop found their way to the spring or the river.

The folks at Roaring River are right to be concerned about that possibility.  McDonald County, in the southwest corner of the state, has plants operated by Tyson, Simmons and MoArk, with CAFOs for all three corporations.  Every water body in that county is on the impaired water bodies list.  Despite the danger of water pollution, the DNR granted the Ozbun family final clearance last Friday to begin operating their chicken CAFO. 

A similar situation exists near Arrow Rock State Park, west of Columbia, where a 4800 hog CAFO is being planned less than two miles from the park line and from the historic town.

The DNR insists that it had to grant the Roaring River license and the Arrow Rock construction permit because state law mandates that it ignore the issue of odor and rule on whether or not a CAFO operation will affect the water table or local streams.  Apparently, Doyle Childers, the head of the DNR, is not convinced that CAFOs might pollute the water.  And there is no state law forbidding them because of odor or because of pathogens from the feces.

The planned lawsuit intends to force the state of Missouri to consider the problems of odor and pathogens.

Consider how newly built CAFOs deal with the feces.  A given house for hogs or poultry is usually built now over a concrete vault, kind of like an inground swimming pool, about an acre in size and eight feet deep.  The animals stand atop this vault on a concrete cover with slots in it for the waste to go through. 

About twice a year, when the waste gets to seven feet deep, the pit is pumped out and the waste is spread over nearby fields.  It can either be sprayed or knifed in (injected about two inches below the surface).  Such a concentration of animal litter has often seeped down through soil and polluted Missouri streams. 

Huge fans circulate the air in the CAFOs 24/7 because, if they stop, the air is so poisonous that the animals soon begin to die.  If, for example, a power outage were to stop the fans, the hogs would begin to die within two hours from exposure to methane, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia.  The hogs are packed in so tight that they cannot even turn.

Aside from how disgusting it is to treat animals so inhumanely, consider how health-threatening it would be to live near such an operation. 

Although no “conclusive evidence” has shown CAFOs are a source of diseases, Carlson [of the Department of Health and Senior Service] told the crowd, some studies have indicated CAFO odors affect quality of life and that pre-existing respiratory problems “may be exacerbated.”

Arrow Rock resident Shirley Gregory, who said she is asthmatic, contended state officials aren’t addressing her concerns.

“When I have to start walking around Arrow Rock with an oxygen tank on my back, they won’t care because the CAFO isn’t what made me sick in the first place,” she said.

The DNR has not only turned a deaf ear to such complaints but has, in its zealous support of CAFOs, ignored its own constitutional mandate to protect not only water quality but also state parks and historic sites.  More on that topic tomorrow.

photo courtesy of Roaring River State Park website