Maricopa’s air quality

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My family and I moved to Maricopa in April 2006. When we purchased the house back in 2006, we mentioned to the homebuilder about the smell of cows. We were told that the farms were in the process of moving the cows to another location, and that the smell was soon to subside.

We have learned from Kale Walch, Pinal County Air Quality deputy director, that there was never an agreement or any arrangements to have the cows relocated, and that it was just something the homebuilders told the buyers. That made me think how many others were told the same thing.

The many upper respiratory infections that my family and I have experienced, not to mention the high medical costs, made me look into our air quality. When monitoring it online on a daily basis, I noticed how often our air quality was in the hazardous range. That is when I decided to contact Mr. Walch, and I started to talk to others living here in Maricopa.

After speaking with many different families, I have learned how many of them are also suffering from upper respiratory infections due to allergies and how many are on breathing treatments due to asthma-like symptoms. Also, most people experience more headaches than they normally had in the past. My son, who is 5, has been having lots of upper respiratory infections for the past two years and has been put on antibiotics quite often. In the past he was hardly ever sick. After becoming frustrated, I opened up to his pediatrician about him constantly being on antibiotics since it seems he can never just get a simple cold. She said she couldn’t tell just yet because his sinus infection was so bad and his nostrils were so swollen. After he had finished his medication, we went back, and she said that he still had fluid in his ear, his nose was irritated and that he definitely has allergies, for which he is now being treated.

But, thinking about it, he was fine with no problems and hardly on antibiotics until moving here when he developed breathing problems. It turns out that many others are suffering the same as we are. So we know we are not alone in this matter. After speaking with other families and hearing their stories, I decided to go further into this issue and educate myself about what is blowing in the air here in Maricopa.

Mr. Walch did inform me while we were speaking on the phone that they have been and are dealing with this issue about bad odor and toxins from Cowtown. He does acknowledge that the air quality here in Maricopa is sometimes very hazardous. When you go outside and take that deep breath of air, you are breathing in many pollutants that the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) farms release. That brown haze you see sometimes over Maricopa is a cloud of toxic air.

These are the facts, based on what I have done research on:

· CAFOs are harmful to the environment and human health. In particular, the manure and wastewater of CAFOs can have pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, organic matter, sediments, pathogens, heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics and ammonia (which causes blue baby syndrome).

· Air pollution from CAFOs can come through numerous methods. Some can cause bad odors, but others emit several dangerous gases as manure and biological materials break down in the absence of oxygen such as in the bottom of a manure pit. Methane, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide are some of the gases. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause neurological problems, including extreme anger, depression and illness.

· As factory farms intensively confine greater numbers of animals, the toll of such industrialized practices weighs heavily on the environment, depleting resources and contaminating habitats. Toxins, chemicals, gases and uncontainable amounts of manure from these facilities pollute the soil, water and air, causing massive environmental degradation and deteriorating public health.

· Odors experienced by community residents living in proximity to CAFOs are limited to two studies in North Carolina and one in Iowa. The first North Carolina study reported more negative mood states (tension, depression, anger, reduced vigor, fatigue and confusion) among those exposed to CAFO odor compared with control subjects. The second North Carolina study reported increased symptoms of headache, runny nose, sore throat, excessive coughing, diarrhea, burning eyes and reduced quality of life.

The way CAFOs are raising cattle can also lead to other problems. Animals in massive CAFOs are fed large amounts of corn and other grains, but some of them, particularly cattle, cannot easily digest this diet. To stave off the illnesses that would otherwise result from this unnatural diet and the close confined quarters of CAFOs, most CAFO animals are routinely fed antibiotics. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of all U.S. antibiotics and related drugs are given to animals that are not sick. This overuse of antibiotics contributes to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria, with the result that antibiotics we commonly use are becoming less effective in fighting human illnesses, including some life-threatening infections.

In an email dated 12/05/2008 from Walch, he stated, “As you know the monitors we have in the Maricopa area do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for particulate matter smaller than 10 microns (PM10). This basically means there is too much dust in the air. Based on this data the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) announced on November 7, 2008, that a PM10 non-attainment designation is forthcoming for Pinal County.”

What is the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS)? It is the Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990, requiring the EPA to set a NAAQS for pollutants considered harmful to public health and the environment. The Clean Air Act established two types of national air quality standards. Primary standards set limits to protect public health, including sensitive populations such as children, the elderly and individuals suffering from respiratory disease. Secondary standards are designed to protect public welfare from any known or anticipated adverse effects of a pollutant (e.g. building facades, visibility, crops and domestic animals).

I know my family and I have been affected by the air quality here, and all I can do is help educate others. As for the other families I have spoken with regarding this matter, they all are supportive and want to learn more. Maybe, if we stand together, our voices will be heard, and we will have clean air in the near future. As for how the economy is going, Maricopa is our town and will be for a long time.

Y.E. Silva

File photo