CAFOs hazardous to our neighbors, environment

This column is part of a two-part series on confined feeding operations.

Years ago, when I was traveling the Alabama countryside, I stopped at a scenic area to enjoy my lunch while parked safely off the road.

Within moments, a resident pulled up beside me. I reluctantly cracked my window to hear what he had to say.

It was this:

Gentleman: Ma’am, do you know where you are?

Me: What do you mean?

Gentleman: See that building over there? That was a poultry barn. You can’t be here. You definitely don’t want to be eating here. It’s a hazardous waste site.

No doubt he drove away thinking he’d just met one of the dumber city types.

I drove away wondering why a chicken barn would be a hazardous waste site.

But I didn’t research the answer until 20 years later in 2014, when someone applied to put a 5,500 pig operation right outside my Greenfield neighborhood.

What I’ve learned will shock you.

Indiana citizens only outnumber Indiana hogs by 2-1.

Depending on size, a hog can produce as much as 14 gallons of manure a day.

None of the hog, cattle or poultry waste is treated, as human waste is.

According to the Environmental Working Group, this amounts to 87 million gallons of untreated manure entering Indiana’s ground water and being sprayed into our air and onto our food crops every year.

A lot of this manure is produced right here in Hancock County.

Other counties require a two-mile setback, financial assurance packages from CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) owners, or even have a CAFO moratorium. Our county will let an existing CAFO or CFO (Confined Feeding Operation) build within only 750 feet of the city limits, or any property, if the owner is in good standing.

“Good standing” means there hasn’t been a reported spill.

But IDEM asks industrial farmers to self-report. Neighbors are usually the ones to report foul play.

Following are a couple of violations found on the IDEM Virtual File Cabinet of Public Records:

“Land application was being conducted on frozen and snow covered ground. Land application was applied approximately 10 feet from a ditch. Land application on frozen or snow covered ground is prohibited.”

“The poultry litter was applied 10 feet from roadways, less than 4 feet from property lines and 18 feet from a grassed waterway.”

“Animal mortality compost did not have adequate run-off control measures.”

Close the windows and turn off the tap if Hancock County’s zoning ordinance isn’t changed.

And there is no time to waste. One of the first actions of the 2015 state legislature was to introduce a bill taking away the right of counties to determine their own destiny by placing all zoning decisions at the mercy of the state legislature.

No more “Home Rule.”

In the not-too-distant past, the legislature even proposed giving CAFOs/CFOs constitutional protections.

This is the same state legislature that voted to make anyone who sues a CAFO pay the court cost and the CAFO attorney fees; the same state legislature that took away the previous two-mile fringe zone that protected city residents from CAFOs; the same state legislature that won’t even let a bill out of committee that requires CAFOs to clean up their own messes.

So it’s time for Hancock County to get proactive for public health.

And it’s time for Greenfield, McCordsville, Fortville, New Palestine and other municipal leadership to step up to the plate, too, and demand better zoning and other protections for their citizens by working with county representatives for the common good.

Donna Steele, an Alabama native, moved to Hancock County in 2011. She lives in Greenfield.