Air monitoring project draws ire of activists
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. — Details of an air monitoring project near chicken houses on the Lower Eastern Shore were shared at an April 25 town hall meeting, with environmental group representatives criticizing the effort.
The project, announced in January, comes out of a partnership with the Maryland Department of Environment, the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment and the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., and will establish two new air quality monitoring stations on the Lower Eastern Shore and retrofit two existing stations in Maryland to include ammonia monitoring.
The Keith Campbell Foundation is funding about $320,000 of the new station cost and DPI is contributing about $120,000 to retrofit the old stations near Horn Point in Dorchester County and in Baltimore City.
On the Lower Shore, one station will be downwind of a concentration of poultry houses and the second will be positioned upwind.
Air monitoring data collection is expected to take place for one year once suitable sites are selected and the stations are installed. MDE’s expectation is to have the stations ready in late summer.
For operating those two stations, the MDE is contracting with University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences, following the MDE’s protocols.
Representatives from the partnering groups emphasized the data and any reports that follow will be available to the public.
“The great news is really what we had to do was write a check,” said Holly Porter, DPI executive director. “We, DPI, are not gathering the data, we are not going to own the data, we are not going to be putting the data together in any reports and we are not trying to create anything from the data. The data is owned by MDE which means it is owned by the citizens of Maryland so that means that that information will be publicly available.”
Porter said the impetus for the monitoring project came out of hearings over the proposed Community Healthy Air Act, a bill that has come up repeatedly in the last three Maryland legislative sessions that would require MDE to conduct a one-time study that identifies air pollutants emitted by large animal feeding operations and assess any potential health risks.
“During that discussion and during some of the testimony a lot of what I heard was ‘We need more data. We need to know what the air quality is like on the Lower Shore. We need more data,” Porter said. “To some extent we agreed.”
Members of environmental groups and Lower Shore residents questioned the motives of the project and if DPI and the Campbell Foundation wanted to know more about air quality, why didn’t they support the Community Healthy Air Act in the legislature.
In a press conference before the meeting and in comments at the meeting, group representatives said the increase in both poultry house size and number of houses on new operations warrants a study on the air quality around the houses.
They said the data collection project was too narrow in scope, does not require a peer review and the data collected would be tainted since it was partially funded by DPI.
“I don’t believe their intentions are honorable and I don’t think they’re good neighbors,” said Monica Brooks, a Wicomico County resident and member of Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, referring to DPI at the groups’ press conference.
The data monitoring project is “disingenuous at best,” said Maria Payan, and “distracts from the need for true comprehensive monitoring that the Community Healthy Air act would have provided.”
Payan called it “offensive” that their groups weren’t contacted about the project and asked for input.
Porter said the Community Healthy Air Act would study air quality only on poultry operations while collecting data on ambient air and particulate matter from the new monitoring stations and would give a better measure of air quality in the whole Lower Shore community.
She also noted the bill, which has failed to reach a floor vote in the last three legislative sessions, came with an estimated price tag of more than $10 million.
“This is not a study,” Porter said of the partner swap. “Studies cost a lot of money.”
Angelo Bianca, deputy director of MDE’s Air and Radiation Administration said emissions studies have already been done on poultry houses.
“Those studies are only good for the houses they measure,” he said. “The data doesn’t apply universally across the Lower Shore so ambient air quality is a better measure of what the general population is exposed to.”
Samantha Campbell, president of the Campbell Foundation said the project wasn’t intended to be comprehensive and is only a first step in addressing the issue.
“This is not the only game in town and it doesn’t stand in the way of more study,” she said. “It’s a first step to gathering some data that doesn’t prevent more data from being gathered. That’s how I see it.”
Campbell added that during the legislative session, other groups who were approached about supporting the Community Healthy Air Act were rebuffed when they asked for changes to the bill. “Compromise works both ways,” Campbell said.
Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, R-Lower Shore, said the partnership between the poultry industry, an environmental group and state government is encouraging but added sharing the information and defining the project’s next steps will be important.
Bianca said MDE has a website, mde.maryland.gov/poultryairmonitoring, set up for posting raw data and any reports that will be made from the data.
“We want this to be totally transparent and open to everyone,” Bianca said. “That’s the only way this will work.”
David Reed, executive director of the Environmental Action Center said siting the two new stations on the Lower Shore is critical in attaining worthwhile data and recommended they be sited close to the minimum distance a poultry operation can be built next to an existing dwelling.
“I hope it doesn’t turn out to seem arbitrary,” he said.
Bianca said in the siting the stations MDE will follow the same protocol as the other 27 air monitoring stations operating in Maryland and the department is taking public input in choosing the sites.
According to a fact sheet on the project, the site needs to be as representative as possible of poultry operations throughout the Lower Shore and need to closely align with federal criteria for determining compliance with national ambient air quality standards. Access to power and landowner permission also play into the decision.
“It may not be the perfect site, but it’s going to be darn close if not,” Bianca said.
After the meeting’s opening remarks, the 90-minute discussion ranged from civil comments and questions to angered rhetoric and people shouting over one another.
Michelle Chesnik, a poultry grower from Willards, Md., urged both sides to come at the issue calmly.
“Let’s go just one step at a time,” she said. “Let’s not go at each other’s throats. And let’s try to work together to solve the problem.
“I think we’re going get the answers. It may not be as quick as everyone wants to have them but if we don’t work together we’re not going to get anywhere.”
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