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Release: Immediate

UI researchers to study issues related to pork production

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Agricultural health and safety researchers at the University of Iowa College of Medicine are undertaking a project that will address rural environmental and quality of life issues related to pork production in Iowa.

Researchers at the UI's Institute for Rural and Environmental Health will collaborate with colleagues from the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University on "A Model Research and Educational Project to Understand and Promote Community-Accepted Pork Production." The researchers recently received a three-year, $240,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fund for Rural America grant program to pursue the project.

"This effort has garnered broad-based support and input from the Iowa Department of Public Health, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development and the Iowa Environmental Council, as well as a number of farmers, rural residents, farm groups and policy makers," says Kendall Thu, associate director of Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH) based at the UI. "Assessing and addressing rural issues in a way that promotes Iowa's economically vital swine sector is responsive to a documented need."

The project has two primary goals. The first is to scientifically assess the air quality, water quality, human health and rural socioeconomic health of rural residents and communities associated with contrasting forms of swine production. The second goal is to develop an educational program that promotes community-acceptable pork production, based on a combination of scientific assessments and community input.

Since the mid-1970s considerable research has been devoted to the health of workers inside swine facilities. Results indicate that a high percentage of these workers experience health problems, especially respiratory diseases, primarily as a result of hazardous air quality inside hog confinement buildings. Research on the outdoor air quality of swine facilities has focused mainly on odor emissions. Although researchers have received numerous complaints associated with swine facilities, few studies have actually been conducted in this area.

Project researchers plan to assess ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and dust concentrations, as well as the physical and psychological health of neighbors living near contrasting forms of swine operations. They will also identify any differences in the types or frequency of air contamination or health problems at these facilities compared to a control site.

In terms of water quality, farm families and other rural residents often raise concerns over the danger to water resources from the large concentrations of hog manure that swine operations

produce. These concerns include runoff, routine handling and land application, possible leakage to groundwater, and accidents and spills. Thu notes, however, that there is little scientific evidence to determine which swine facilities, if any, can cause problems.

The water quality component of the project will involve water sampling to characterize the condition of surface water, ground water/drinking water and precipitation at or near these facilities. Researchers will also provide actual water quality data and assessments to rural communities so they have a factual understanding of water quality conditions, and assist hog producers and rural residents in ways to improve and protect their water supplies.

The researchers also plan to examine the relative social and economic benefits of various forms of swine operations. They will assess the benefits and costs of contrasting forms of pork production on community institutions such as schools, health care and social services. Researchers also will consider the quality of social relations among neighbors living near different types of swine operations and evaluate how these relationships may have changed over time.

Results from all of the scientific assessments will be provided to pork producers, rural residents and community leaders. Combined with their input, the findings will be translated into an educational program that identifies key issues related to promoting community-acceptable forms of pork production.