June 8, 2017

Dutch Study Says Big Farms Cause Lung Problems

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Air pollution from large-scale livestock farms impairs lung function in neighbors who live nearby, a new study from the Netherlands, and reported by Reuters, shows.

“It’s well known that air pollution causes lung problems, and usually we think about air pollution from industry, cars,” says Lidweien Smit, an environmental epidemiologist and professor at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and senior author of the study. “Our study shows that air pollution from livestock farms is causing lung function declines in areas where people live near farms.”

Smit and her team measured several markers of lung function in 2,308 adults who lived in 12 villages near, but not on, farms in the Netherlands. The more livestock farms that were near participants’ homes—within six-tenths of a mile—the more impairments researchers found in how participants expelled air when they exhaled.

The study also showed that neighboring residents’ lung function was reduced during weeks with higher levels of farm-related ammonia air pollution. This could occur during periods of time when manure is being spread on fields.

One pediatrician says that the findings would not, however, prompt him to recommend that people living near large-scale farming operations leave the area. “People should be aware of these exposures, and if they’re having respiratory symptoms associated with these sorts of exposures, it’s something to look into and have further evaluated,” says Dr. Daniel Jackson, a pediatrician and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Study results seem to contradict other studies that show that children who grow up on farms have reduced incidence of allergies and asthma, Jackson says.

Recently government regulators in the Netherlands ordered poultry farmers to cut dust emissions by half over the next 10 years, Smit says. “Farmers know something needs to be done to reduce pollution and the risks,” she says. “It’s very important to have a dialogue with farmers and the community.”