Four Northeast Iowa residents are requesting the Iowa Department of Natural Resources control discharges from hog confinements based on existing state law.
Bob Watson and Dick Janson of Decorah, Lew Klimesh of Waucoma and Larry Stone of Elkader this week filed a petition for a declaratory order with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources that asks the agency to state that hog confinement air emissions contain manure, which according to Iowa Code is to be retained in the confinement building between manure application events. The petition also asks that the DNR regulate the emissions accordingly.
“Our position is that air emissions from hog confinements contain excreta/waste/manure,” the petitioners stated.
The DNR has 60 days to respond to the petition. If it does not comply with the declaratory order, the petitioners plan to file a lawsuit in state court.
The petitioners said they agree with the state’s definition of manure: “animal excreta or other commonly associated wastes of animals, including, but not limited to, bedding, litter or feed losses.”
Klimesh lives near several hog confinement operations and is adversely affected by the air emissions from the operations, according to the petition. Watson, Janson and Stone have long advocated for the protection of the people in Northeast Iowa from the harmful effects of hog confinement operations. Attorney Wallace Taylor of Cedar Rapids represents the petitioners.
“I’ve been working on this issue for 25 years and we’ve tried to find what’s available to affect this and what we’ve found is the state’s definition of manure and the State Code on the retention of manure in hog confinement buildings actually show that manure is being blown out and not being retained … the confinements aren’t complying with Iowa Code,” Watson said.

The petitioners said the state’s definition of waste includes what it is made of, including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane, antibiotic-resistant organisms and particulates.
“Basically, everything in a modern hog confinement is included in this definition except the hogs,” the petition states.
The petitioners said some might argue air emissions from a modern hog confinements do not include manure, which is wrongly based on an understanding of how pigs were raised in the past, “naturally on the land without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and such.”
“Those pigs’ manure, when deposited directly onto the land, naturally broke down through action by wind, water, sunlight, insects, animals and soil organisms, into its beneficial constituent parts and contributed to the fertilization of the soil and the nutrient uptake cycle. That historical manure is not the waste that we see in today’s state-mandated modern hog confinements,” the petitioners said.
“Modern hog confinements have a pit that the manure drops into. This environment has no sunlight, wind, water insects, animals or soil organisms that help break down the waste as happens in a natural setting. The waste in modern hog confinements breaks down in an anaerobic environment producing all of the constituent parts … including, gasses, particulate and antibiotic-resistant organisms. These constituent parts of the manure, the gasses, particulate and antibiotic resident organisms, are vented or blown out of the confinement into the neighborhood and larger environment,” the petition stated.

The petitioners cite Iowa Code that requires a confinement feeding operation retain all manure produced by the operation between periods of manure disposal.
But the petitioners said confinements are discharging manure through air vents or blowers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
“The gasses, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and methane, antibiotic-resistant organism, volatile organic compounds and particulate are discharged out of hog confinement air vents/blowers. This is, and has been, known through the literature and research studies for many years and is an accepted fact. These are constituent parts of the waste as the waste breaks down in an anaerobic environment,” the petitioners said.

No health protection
The current agricultural climate has made it virtually impossible to use the regulatory system to protect human health from the harmful emissions coming from modern Iowa hog confinements, according to the petition.
The petitioners cite the 2014 Johns Hopkins study by Jillian Fry that details the gap between known public health threats from industrial agriculture and what is being done to protect the public through regulations from those threats.
According to the petitioners, the Fry study reveals research linking industrial food animal production (IFAP) to public health concerns and impact continues to increase.
“In addition to posing respiratory health risks to those residing near operations due to emissions that include hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, endotoxins, ammonia, allergens, and volatile organic compounds, odor generated by IFAP operations and spray fields have been associated with a broad range of health problems. Public access to information regarding hazardous airborne releases from IFAP operations is hindered due to exemptions in federal laws that require disclosure of such releases, despite research linking chronic exposure to odors from IFAP to headaches, nausea, upset stomach, mood disorders, high blood pressure and sleep problems. Additionally, there is growing evidence that livestock can transmit methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to humans,” the petitioners quoted from Fry’s study.
Fry’s report said the permitting of confinement operations is delegated to agencies without a primary mandate to address public health, “raising concerns that public health issues may not be adequately monitored or addressed by the agencies tasked with regulating the IFAP operations.”
Fry’s study reports a growing divide between environmental and public health agencies was identified in the 1990s as a trend that threatens public health protections.
The focus of environmental agencies has shifted to permitting, enforcement record keeping and standard-setting and away from public health evaluations, Fry said in her report.
“Our study reveals that sampled state permitting and agriculture agencies have taken limited actions to prevent and/or respond to public health concerns arising from IFAP operations. The main barriers identified that prevent further engagement include narrow or inadequate regulations, a lack of public health expertise within the agencies and limited resources,” Fry wrote in her study.
“There was widespread agreement among permitting and agriculture agency interviewees that health departments should play a role in regulating IFAP operations, partly due to their own agencies’ limited mandates and available expertise in public health. Yet previously published findings show limited involvement by local and state health departments due to political barriers and a lack of jurisdiction, expertise and resources,” Fry said.
“These results indicate a fragmented system to protect public health where no agency has ownership of monitoring or addressing the impact of IFAP on people’s health. In short, health departments generally lack jurisdiction over IFAP operations and permitting and agriculture agencies generally lack jurisdiction over and the capacity to address public health concerns.”
The petition includes expert testimony and more than 800 scientific studies and research articles the petitioners said justify their position.