It’s All About Health

Clean air and water are critical

As with all health risks, CAFO pollution takes a special toll on the elderly, children, and people with chronic diseases.

My wife has unexplained headaches, and I have dizzy spells when the fumes are high in humid weather…We have lived here for more than 50 years…we have no one to go to for help.”

–neighbor of hog CAFO, Michigan

Air Risks

The spray-application of untreated CAFO waste is particularly hazardous. Bioaerosols and gases – hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, particles of fecal matter, bacteria, particulates – can hang in the air for hours or days, with ongoing exposure. Both short-term and long-term exposures can cause anxiety, watery-eyes, burning sinues, depression, rage, difficulty breathing, aggravated asthma and other serious respiratory and cardiac problems. Studies have shown a significant increase in the risk of spontaneous abortion in association with exposure to hydrogen sulfide.

The air is saturated with the smell of raw dairy sewage. The smell is thick against the back of our house, under low-hanging branches in the yard…odor streams through the screened door into our house.”

neighbor of dairy CAFO, Ohio

Water Risks

Health risks spread even further when water’s the problem – in streams and lakes where people swim or fish, into drinking water supplies. Whether it’s excess phosphorus feeding toxic algae, or any of the hundreds of pollutants and pathogens identified in untreated CAFO waste, the risks can be huge. Hundreds of thousands of people in Toledo, OH, lost their drinking water supply when algal toxins contaminated the City’s drinking water supply in 2014.

The most dangerous pathogens include the bacteria, E. coli 0157:H7, which can cause severe diarrhea, and is especially risky for children, who can suffer kidney failure. And the emerging health crisis of antibiotic resistant bacteria affects everyone who needs antibiotics that work. Bacteria with resistance to multiple antibiotics have been found in CAFO-polluted streams in southern Michigan (see EMU study listed below).

Cryptosporidium, a chlorine-resistant pathogen, can also enter drinking water supplies, as when Milwaukee’s drinking water system was contaminated with Cryptosporidium a decade ago. 403,000 people were sickened with acute diarrhea and 69 died. “Studies in Michigan found Cryptosporidium in 11 surface water sites near CAFO farms…High levels of E.coli bacteria were reported as well.” (Joan B. Rose, Michigan State University).


If you notice CAFO emissions or odors that cause headaches, nausea, sore throat, or any other symptoms, report it! Here’s how.

[in SE Michigan call MDARD Right to Farm: 1-877-632-1783 and notify DEQ Air Division: 517-780-7481. If after hours or extremely serious, call the 24-hr PEAS (Pollution Emergency) Hotline: 1-800-292-4706. Also, please use this form to report your information to us. We will add your observations anonymously to an archive, for agencies to see the impact on our communities.]

Call your doctor, especially if symptoms include difficulty breathing or chest pain.

For additional information, refer to these publications on CAFO-contaminated air & water, and its impact on public health.

Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), Minnesota Department of Health, “Exposure Investigation: Excel Dairy, Excel Township, Marshall County, Minnesota” (March 2009) 

Dungan, R. S. “Fate and transport of bioaerosols associated with livestock operations and manures,” Journal of Animal Science (July 2010)

Duris, J.W., and Beeler, Stephanie, “Fecal-indicator bacteria and Escherichia coli pathogen data collected near a novel sub-irrigation water-treatment system in Lenawee County, Michigan, June–November 2007: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report (2008)

EPA, “Literature Review of Contaminants in Livestock and Poultry Manure and Implications for Water Quality,” (2013)

Florida, Jamie, et al. “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and High Intensity Animal Production Systems: An Annotated Bibliography” (2008)

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Toxics Steering Group, CAFO Sub-Committee, “Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations (CAFOs) Chemicals Associated with Air Emissions” (May 10, 2006)

Rose, Joan, and Rachel Katonak, MSU, “Risks to Human Health Associated with Water and Food Contaminated with Animal Wastes,” (2005)

Rose, Joan et al, “Waterborne Pathogens; Where Michigan Stands Now and Recommendations for Our Future,” (2007)

Schinasi, Leah, et al. “Air Pollution, Lung Function, and Physical Symptoms in Communities Near Concentrated Swine Feeding Operations” Epidemiology (March, 2011)

West, Bridgett, Eastern Michigan University, “Antibiotic Resistance, Gene Transfer, and Water Quality Patterns Observed in Waterways near CAFO Farms and Wastewater Treatment Facilities,” Water Air Soil Pollution (2010)

Williams, D’Ann, et al. “Airborne cow allergen, ammonia and particulate matter at homes vary with distance to industrial scale dairy operations: an exposure assessment,” Environmental Health (August, 2011)