April 24, 2020


Poultry sector contributes to US' Chesapeake Bay's ammonia air pollution



According to a new study, ammonia air pollution from the Chesapeake region poultry sector contributes about 12 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay annually, reported by The BayNet.


This is more than all the sewage and wastewater in Maryland or Pennsylvania.


The report by the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) uses the most recent scientific studies and federal data to show that over one billion chickens and turkeys grown in the Bay region every year produce about 5.7 billion pounds of manure and about 200 million pounds of ammonia emissions every year.


The fall of this air pollution back onto land and waterways, combined with the runoff of poultry manure spread on farm fields, contributes about 24 million pounds of nitrogen—the Bay's biggest killer—to the Chesapeake every year, according to EIP's report, "Poultry Industry Pollution in the Chesapeake Region."


To put that number into context, that's more than double the roughly 10 million pounds of nitrogen pollution from all of Maryland's sewage and wastewater plants in 2018, or the nine million pounds from Pennsylvania's. The 24 million pounds from poultry is even more than the 20 million pounds annually from all the urban and suburban stormwater runoff in Virginia and Maryland combined, according to EIP's report.


"On Earth Day, there is nothing more important than discussing the most critical environmental issues facing our world—including reducing agricultural pollution, the biggest source of contamination in the Chesapeake Bay," said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project and co-author of the report.


"Clearly, the Chesapeake region states need to do more to reduce this major growing source of pollution, including by requiring air pollution monitoring and controls on poultry houses, and by imposing reasonable limits on permits for a new generation of super-sized factory farms," said Russ.


Betsy Nicholas, executive director, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, said, "EIP's report highlights the urgent need to address how the explosion of poultry houses has caused serious public health and environmental justice hotspots in rural communities throughout our region. Out-of-state and international corporations come in and exploit our rural communities, causing excessive pollution from air pollution from poultry houses and over-application of manure on farm lands. Our state and federal environmental agencies need to protect our people and environment and make this stop."


The Environmental Integrity Project's calculation of nitrogen pollution entering the Bay from poultry industry ammonia emissions is about 14%, or 1.4 million pounds, higher than the total suggested by government estimates. The joint federal and state Chesapeake Bay Program, which is led by the US Environmental Protection Agency, uses a computer model of pollution entering the Bay based in part on outdated studies of European broiler operations in 1980s and 1990s.


EIP's report uses more recent numbers from studies of American poultry houses, and includes data from the most recent USDA farm census. The report also includes case studies of how ammonia and other air pollutants from poultry operations harm the health and welfare of families living next to factory farms on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, in Accomack County, Virginia, and in York County, Pennsylvania.