Advocates sue EPA over industrial farm emissions

Eight advocacy groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday to try to force federal action on air pollution from industrial livestock farms.

The lawsuits say the chemicals wafting from farms that raise thousands of chickens, hogs and other animals hurt human health and cause environmental problems.

Neighbors of North Carolina hog farms have filed nuisance claims in 25 federal lawsuits against Murphy-Brown LLC, the state’s leading producer. Those cases are in the early stages of litigation.

Some of the same North Carolina plaintiffs filed a petition with the EPA last year that claims odors from the state’s 2,100 hog farms violate the civil rights of neighbors, who are often minorities.

No North Carolina plaintiffs are represented in the EPA lawsuits filed Wednesday in the federal court for the District of Columbia.

Those lawsuits ask the court to force the EPA to rule on two petitions that advocates filed in 2009 and 2011.

The Humane Society of the United States asked the EPA to list industrial farms as a pollution source under the Clean Air Act and set performance standards. In the second petition, the Environmental Integrity Project asked the agency to set health-based emission standards for ammonia.

Other plaintiffs are the Center for Food Safety, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Clean Wisconsin, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Association of Irritated Residents.

“We will review and respond to the lawsuits,” EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said.

The lawsuits say the estimated 20,000 industrial farms produce more than 500 million tons of manure a year, three times the amount of human waste. The farms typically store the manure in open pits and spray liquid waste to irrigate farm fields.

Experts say the farms release large amounts of ammonia, an irritating gas; methane, a greenhouse gas; and hydrogen sulfide, known for its rotten-egg stink. They have linked those emissions to health problems including burning eyes, breathing problems, headaches, anxiety and blood pressure spikes.