Residents packed the Cooper County Public Health office Monday night as the Board of Health discussed a potential health regulation to oversee concentrated animal feeding operations. The room was clearly split by those in favor of and those opposed to enacting a regulation.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources on June 19 awarded an operating permit to Pipestone Facilities to run a concentrated hog farming operation in Clarksburg. This proposed operation would be home to 5,784 sows, 640 nursery pigs and 1280 swine. Combined, these animals would produce an estimated 4.9 million gallons of liquid waste each year. Several months ago, a group of local citizens calling themselves Opponents of Cooper County CAFO’s began pressuring county-level officials to pass a health ordinance regulating emissions from this operation.
Tensions were high as board members went through the proposed document line by line. Concerned residents filled the meeting room as law enforcement kept a careful watch on proceedings. Despite nearly two and a half hours of discussion, the board moved to table the proposed regulation.
“There’s legitimate concerns on both sides,” said George Monk, a cattle farmer who has lived in Cooper County since childhood. “We’ve lost all of our industry in Boonville. We’d turn head over heels if Ford were to come in and put in a seat belt plant in our town, for example, and that’s a big corporation. When you throw corporations on agriculture, everybody screams. We’re pretty hypocritical.”
Prior to discussing the proposed ordinance, the health board met with a small committee comprised of three people in favor of CAFO regulations and three people opposed. The health board asked to keep the names of these individuals private.
The proposed regulation would require CAFOs to file for a county health permit in addition to the already-required Department of Natural Resources permit. Under this regulation, the county would be able to monitor air and ground water quality near CAFOs. CAFOs would have to re-apply for a county health permit on an annual basis. Any violations would be turned over to the county prosecutor.
Additionally, the board discussed a supportive action that would create a committee to review CAFO best practices. This board would be comprised of a health board member, a county commissioner, a member of the University of Missouri Extension team, a community member opposed to regulation, a community member in favor of regulation, an agricultural enforcement regulator and two members at large. If a current county commissioner declined the invitation, the regulation allowed for a retired commissioner to take the spot.
Dr. Everett Murphy, a local retired pulmonologist, shared a statement from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Association of Local Boards of Health documenting potential health risks from CAFO’s. “Given those guidelines by your national association, there is absolutely no way to shirk your responsibility to protect the public at large and not give special exceptions to persons, groups or corporations no matter the risk of lawsuits,” Murphy said.
The pressure is on for members of the health board to act quickly. On June 1, the Missouri senate passed SB627, which states that cities and counties cannot enact any laws related to seeds or fertilizers. Under this bill, which goes into effect August 28, manure is classified as a fertilizer. In February, the county commissioners announced they would not be pursuing a health ordinance to regulate CAFO emissions. In Missouri, 19 counties have passed health ordinances regulating CAFO emissions. Only two of these regulations were passed by health boards, and the remaining ordinances were enacted by county commissioners. This proposed health board regulation is the only remaining option for Cooper County to pass legislation at a local level.
“We are losing the opportunity to protect the county long term, because we cannot count on the state and federal government in this current climate to provide any type of quality oversight and management,” said Cooper County public health administrator Melanie Hutton.
Board of Health members expressed conflicting opinions on the proposed regulation.
“I really don’t feel we have the expertise to evaluate this new regulation. I don’t feel we have the expertise on staff, and I don’t know if we can afford to train people. We can leave it under consideration,” board member Patty Dick said. “I do think there are health concerns, I just don’t know what the answer is to fix them.”
Fellow board of health member John Ward shared a different view.
“When you see a wrong, our job is to try to make it right,” Ward said. “There was a time where cigarette smoking was permitted in every place, and we’ve kind of got that fixed. This issue is going to affect us. This is hard, and maybe we don’t know how to do it. Maybe we should find out how. We need to do something, rather than just standing back and saying this is a bigger problem than we can handle and hoping it will go away.”
Board members plan to meet at least twice more before the August 28 deadline to further discuss this issue.