WASHBURN — The Large Scale Livestock Study Committee listened to a presentation from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Dr. Robert Thiboldeaux during their meeting on Thursday afternoon.
Thiboldeaux is the Senior Toxicologist of Wisconsin Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health. His presentation was called “Air Quality and Livestock Operations.”
Thiboldeaux began by talking about his background and education.
“In the past six years, I’ve been involved in a number of multi-partner, multi-agency work groups in this state, looking at agricultural issues related to these large scale agricultural operations,” he said. “I feel like I’m starting to get a bit of experience in this issue and hopefully I can share some of that from a public health perspective.
“From a public health perspective, one thing I want to emphasize is that we don’t view CAFOs as inherently good or bad and I liken it in some ways to a city where we have lots of people living in a fairly concentrated area. And when we have those people living in that area, their wastes are similarly concentrated.”
Thiboldeaux explained that the DHS does not have a formal regulatory role but they help other agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources.
“We do assist state and local agencies with their legislatively assigned roles,” he said. “Ensuring that citizens have safe clean drinking water, so if there is a spill, if there is improperly applied agricultural waste that effects ground water, drinking water, people have to figure out what they’re going to do.”
Thiboldeaux said that private citizens with private drinking water wells are responsible for their own wells. However, the health department will provide assistance in helping them figure out what needs to happen to fix the problem or find an alternative sources.
“Although the Department of Health Services does not have a direct formal role in regulating agricultural operations we do hear a lot about … runoff, spills, we hear about well water impacts, people getting ground water,” he said.
Thiboldeaux talked about the pressures that sometimes get put onto the local health experts to intervene as local health officers have a broad authority to identify health hazards and to order their mitigation.
“Some people interpret that as the health officer has the authority to go in and shut down some CAFO, and in practice, it doesn’t really work that way,” he said. “The regulatory authority really is ascribed to these other agencies.”
Thiboldeaux posed the question “Are we subject to pathogens?”
“Merely the presences of pathogens is not in it self a health hazard,” he said. “Whether it’s a chemical hazard or a microbial hazard or a bacterial hazard, we’re thinking about one, ‘Is this agent present in the environment?’ two, ‘Is it present in sufficient concentrations to cause harm?’ and three, ‘Is there a completed exposure path?’
“If you have all three of those conditions combined then you can have some biological risk. That’s important because when we’re talking about manure, there may well be harmful agents in that, no matter what type it is, no matter what form it is, no matter how it’s applied there is going to be some harmful bacterial or pathogenic agents in that. So we need to consider what is that risk and how is it being addressed.”
Thiboldeaux talked about what manure or agricultural waste is.
“It’s the undigested components of that animal’s diet and then there is also some bacteria in there,” he said. “And I think what many people don’t appreciate is just how much bacteria we’re talking about.”
Thiboldeaux explained that the bacteria living in the feces produce various chemicals as a byproduct — these byproducts and gases are what people experience as the odor and odor characteristics of manure.
Thiboldeaux showed a list of some of the odor-producing chemicals found in manure including hydrogen sulfide —commonly known as swamp gas — methane and ammonia.
When the environmental conditions are changed, so does the types of bacteria. Thus the byproducts and odors produced can change as well.
“All these chemicals have particular odors as a class but also as very specific types of chemicals … they combine to produce the peculiar bouquet of feces,” he said.
Thiboldeaux talked about some of the differences between pig manure and dairy manure
“Pig manure is not the same as dairy manure, both in it’s composition and its physical characteristics, right down to how do you handle it on the farm,” Thiboldeaux said, adding that you can squeeze out the liquids and separate dairy manure but you can not separate pig manure.
Thiboldeaux answered board member questions through out his presentation.
Thiboldeaux also did a presentation on the odor and other air quality risks associated with Confined Animal Feeding Operations from 6 - 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center. The event was free and open to the public.
UW Extension Agriculture Agent Jason Fischbach began presenting possible actions regarding preliminary surface water quality findings of fact and regulatory action options but time ran out and the presentation will be finished at a different meeting.
In other matters, three persons addressed the board with concerns and input during the public comment portion of the meeting.
The next Large Scale Livestock Study Committee meeting is scheduled for Sept. 10 at the Bayfield County Courthouse starting at 1:30 p.m. For more information visit www.bayfieldcounty.org/agendacenter.