Baltimore, Md. – Today the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) released a letter to the Wicomico County Health Department that details major concerns with a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) that the department conducted to assess the health risks and potential impacts of a proposed ten-house poultry operation outside Salisbury. CLF identified a number of flaws with both the process and content of the HIA report, including the failure to adopt a transparent and inclusive approach to the HIA process, and the failure to discuss or recognize numerous health concerns associated with industrial broiler production.
The proposed new poultry operation is sited in a community that is more than 80% African American. It will be located on top of groundwater that is the primary water source for a large number of individual water systems and two water supply wells for Salisbury. This HIA has been used to expand the industry by adding a large operation to the already 113 active poultry operations in the county that produce at least 11 million chickens per year, which is the fourth highest number of any county in the state. Wicomico is adjacent to counties with the largest (Somerset) and second largest (Worcester) broiler inventories in the state.
In a previous letter to the local health department last January, CLF provided evidence of how increased density of large-scale poultry complexes, and the waste they produce, threatens public health by (1) spreading infectious diseases to nearby residents; (2) emitting air pollution that causes asthma and bronchitis; and (3) contaminating surface and groundwater that can result in liver damage and neurological impairments, among other things.
“A fatally flawed health assessment has been used by Wicomico County to dismiss the community’s calls for a public health ordinance that would create new and necessary protections against threats to air quality and drinking water safety by industrial-sized poultry operations. Until such an ordinance is passes, it is imperative that the county establish a moratorium on the expansion of existing poultry complexes and on the building of any new ones,” said Michele Merkel, co-director of Food & Water Watch’s Food & Water Justice program.
“I'm deeply concerned and offended that our elected officials would even allow such a potentially hazardous operation to be placed on the single source of water for the citizens of this region, the Paleochannel. Once water contamination occurs the health effects are long term and largely irreversible. As a mother and a grandmother, it is not a risk I would ever be comfortable with,” said Monica Brooks, member of Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs.
“Trust is lost when public health is politicized in vulnerable populations. Have we learned nothing from the crisis in Flint Michigan? There are standards, for a reason, when doing a Health Impact Assessment. Stakeholders have a voice in the process which has been silenced by the flawed procedure in this HIA,” said Maria Payans, consultant for Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.
“We agree with CLF that Maryland and Wicomico County health officials should hire an independent group to conduct a new HIA, which should include a participatory approach with a wide range of stakeholders. In addition, the permitting of the 10-house poultry operation should be terminated since the County relied on the faulty HIA to justify proceeding with the permitting process,“ said Mary Ashanti, President of Wicomico County NAACP.
“Childhood asthma, lung cancer, and lung disease rates on the Lower Eastern Shore are some of the highest in the state and in the nation and yet we have no air monitors on the Lower Eastern Shore. None. Air quality is becoming a pressing problem in our country and we parents have a right to know what is in the air our children are breathing. Our coalition sent out a formal request for air monitors to all of our area politicians. Not a single county councilman, delegate, nor senator from the Eastern Shore responded. Not one," said Margaret Barnes, Founder/Executive Director of Moms Across America Eastern Shore Chapter.
"The residents of Wicomico County have cause for concern about the level of nitrates in their wells. Industrial poultry production requires massive exhaust fans to remove the highly elevated ammonia levels that build up inside the poultry houses. These ammonia emissions convert to nitrogen that is deposited on land and in the water yet they are not regulated by the state or the EPA. Ammonia deposition to the Chesapeake Bay watershed accounts for approximately 17% of the nitrogen loads and 84% of Maryland's contribution of nitrogen through ammonia deposition comes from agriculture. A single industrial scale chicken house contributes 4.4 tons of ammonia per year to our air and our waterways. The Wicomico HIA failed to account for how these emissions impact local public health," said Kathy Phillips, Assateague COASTKEEPER/ Assateague Coastal Trust.
“We want our local officials to start prioritizing community health over profits. We support agriculture and family farming, but it must be safe and sustainable,” said Edward Lee, Chairman of Circle of Leaders.
Contact: Jackie Filson - jfilson[at]fwwatch[dot]org, 202.683.2538