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Studies look at possible link between hog odors and health effects

By George Olsen


Studies look at possible link between hog odors and health effects

New Bern, NC – INTRO - A pair of recently published studies attempts to lay groundwork showing a correlation between odor from industrial hog farms and adverse health effects on surrounding communities. George Olsen has more.

The studies published in New Solutions and Environmental Health Perspectives, don't draw any conclusions that the health of residents within range of odor from industrial hog operation is being negatively affected. It's first trying to establish those communities are being affected and toward that end set out mechanical monitors to measure air quality and had residents keeping diaries or submit to interviews about odor problems in the area.

18:37 With regard to the amount of odor, there were 101 people in the study followed for approximately two weeks each and during that time they reported 1655 episodes of swine odor. The 101 participants lived in 16 different neighborhoods in eastern North Carolina and in nine of those 16 neighborhoods, swine odor was reported on more than half of the study days that gives you some idea that it's a common occurrence.

Steve Wing is an associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health and one of the two studies' authors. The mechanical aspect of the study measured air quality in communities within a mile-and-a-half of industrial hog operations, specifically such things as hydrogen sulfide a gas which Wing said at high levels can be toxic and fine particulate matter dust that can be inhaled deep into the lungs and is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

02:47 What our study looked at was the relationship between those measurements of pollutants in the air and people's rating of the strength of hog odors in their homes, and what we found were that the chemicals found in the air were correlated with the levels of odor they reported and specifically of hog odor.

The people reporting incidences of hog waste odor also reported a range of health related symptoms.

14:23 The kinds of symptoms that people report around industrial hog operations include headaches, mucous membrane irritation meaning burning eyes or nose, excessive coughing, sore throats, some people report gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea those are typical symptoms that you would find people reporting.

The study is ongoing and to date hasn't correlated reports of symptoms to reports of odor or elevated pollution measures. To some degree, however, Wing and his fellow researchers aren't so much focusing on deleterious effects on physical health, but on more subtle effects to health that can result from what the New Solutions report refers to as beneficial use of property.

21:40 For about a third of the people in the study, they said they had to change or cancel activities because of hog odor, and these types of changes included closing their windows or avoiding sitting in the yard or socializing with friends or stopping their plans to cook-out or exercise by taking a walk.

None of these things hints at a new black plague affecting communities nearby industrial hog operations. In fact, most of us would refer to the reported affect of hog odor on activities as annoyances. But Wing says these annoyances can have an impact on an individual's overall condition of health.

23:08 Let's remember that health is a state of well being. It's not merely the absence of disease, so to be healthy it's important to have social support, social contacts, it's important to get exercise, and these are some of the things where affected people when hog odor is present at their homes they're unable to engage in these types of activities.

Currently there is a ban on the building of new hog waste lagoons. But Steve Wing adds there are still over 2000 of these operations largely running as they always have. He hopes his group's study could help prevent further impact on neighboring community's quality of life. I'm George Olsen.