Factory Farm Runoff Contaminating Your Well Water? Not EPA’s Problem

Photo credit: The inside view of a typical turkey production house, Soil Science, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Amity Township resident Mark Deal took the stand on May 26th to protest the factory farm being proposed 2500 feet away from his house.

Deal, a retired engineer and adjoining property owner, fears the facility — which will produce 700 tons of manure per year — will contaminate the groundwater that supplies his well.

“I object to the high concentration of animals, the amount of waste it’s going to create, and the risk of that getting into the stream that runs through my property and a lot of our neighbors’ properties,” he said.

“Who protects your well?” asked Mark Koch, an attorney representing the concerned citizens.

“Actually, no one. I looked into it,” responded Deal. He found that, according to the EPA’s website, “private, individual wells are the responsibility of the homeowner.” The website goes on to cite manure pits and animal burial grounds as common sources of potential groundwater contamination.

“I was surprised. I expected there to be more regulation,” said Deal.

Shirey’s attorney, Matthew Doll, argues there’s no way for manure to get into the groundwater. The only time it’ll be out in the open, he says, is once per year when Shirey cleans out the barns and a manure broker comes to take it away. Other than that, it’ll be under the roof of the turkey sheds and a composter, where rainwater won’t get to it.

Of course, once everything is approved, there’s little to no oversight to make sure Shirey is adhering to best practices to avoid contamination. In a letter to Amity supervisors opposing the facility, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future highlighted testimony from Penn State agriculture expert Dr. Gregory Martin, who testified at a previous meeting.

“[He] recognized that state Departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection do not very often check the records of manure sales or purchases between farms,” the letter stated. “While nutrient management plans would be required, adherence to these plans is not necessarily monitored by state agencies.”

According to Eric Rosenbaum of Rosetree Consulting, who worked on both the soil conservation plan and the nutrient management plan, the conservation district will periodically inspect the facility for structural soundness. However, upon further questioning, he admitted that they won’t necessarily check for cracks in the concrete of the heavy use area, where manure could be seeping into groundwater.

“Who do we go to with odor complaints?”

What if there are odor complaints, as there almost always are near factory farms? Still not the DEP’s problem, according to Rosenbaum. “That would be a nuisance complaint,” he said. “I would call the odor management people at the State Conservation Commission and ask for Larry Baum; he’s the one who approved [the nutrient management plan].”

When resident Robert Qirk asked what the response to odor complaints would be like, Rosenbaum simply stated, “it depends on staffing—I can’t answer that.”

Unfortunately, complaints often go nowhere. “You call the agencies, say there’s contamination, and they don’t come out,” said SRAP activist Maria Payan in an interview. “If they do come out, they slap them on the wrist. They don’t write them up; they don’t enforce the laws. And that’s where we get a lot of calls, because people don’t know who to turn to, because their government’s failed them.”

Rose Koufos, a farmer in York Springs, has contacted every agency she can think of to try reporting violations and nuisance odors from the poultry facility that was built behind her property. “There’s been a lot of shady dealings in this process,” she told me in an interview. “We’ve had a total lack of help from all government agencies. They basically turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. They just don’t care.”

Koufos and her family have always been outdoor people, but now there are times when the flies and odor get so bad she can’t take her grandchildren outside anymore. “And you know, that’s heartbreaking to me,” she said. “To know that the land that you’ve worked so hard to take care of, that’s now been in the family for over 40 years, that your own grandchildren don’t like it because of the impact that’s here because of that.”

“This just isn’t the right place for this”

Deal and his wife chose to move to Amity township because of the bucolic landscape. “My wife and I were looking for some acreage, rural, in this part of the state,” he said. He spoke fondly of their old farmhouse, located on 36 acres of wooded land with two streams running through it.

Shelli Brooks was similarly enamoured with the area, which is why she moved her family there even though her husband works an hour away. “We liked the idea of generations of people raising families, and traditional farming,” she said in an interview. “We felt like it would be a very safe place to raise our daughter.”

Deal and Brooks worry that the facility will ruin the peace and quiet that drew them to the area. In fact, between the geography of the land and the history of the Oley Valley, residents have stated over and over that this isn’t the right location for a factory farm.

“It seems to me there should be a better parcel of land for this monstrosity,” said resident John Weir at the hearing.

“I’m not anti-farm in any way,” said Brooks, in a sentiment that’s been echoed by Deal and other residents. “[But] when somebody says there’s going to be a turkey farm, you think a nice little family is going to come in, and have a little free-range, meadow-fed, 100-turkey turkey farm. . .What I try to iterate is, this is not a farm. This is an industry. This is not a family farm.”

That’s something you don’t necessarily realize when WFMZ keeps calling the facility a “75-acre turkey farm.” The parcel of land Shirey owns is 75 acres, but the two sheds his 30,000 turkeys will live in are each only about an acre in size. That’s not a farm—it’s a turkey factory.

The final conditional use hearing for the facility is scheduled for Thursday, June 16th at 6 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, 1312 Old Swede Rd, Douglassville.

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