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Opinions and observations from environmental experts, activists, and luminaries

Noxious Air

Factory farms are notorious for the air pollution and odors produced by the microbial breakdown of organic carbon and nitrogen compounds in manure. During decomposition, noxious levels of gases are emitted, putting workers and nearby residents at risk of developing a number of acute and chronic illnesses.

Waste storage and land application lead to emissions of fine particulates, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and methane.

As with water pollution, geographical concentration also plays a role in air pollution. Commenting on the difference between small, independent farms and factory farms in this regard, an October 2007 article entitled "Something stinks in Iowa" states: "The factory farms have mostly replaced smaller family operations, which were scattered enough to limit their unavoidable stench...The operations typically set up shop near small, rural towns, where land is cheap and officials are eager for any new business that offers jobs and increased tax revenue."

Neighbors aren't the only ones who suffer from factory farm gases. Of all the gaseous byproducts of farm animal manure decomposition, hydrogen sulfide is regarded as the most dangerous, creating a risk of both unconsciousness and death for those who work in manure pits. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has deemed hydrogen sulfide to be "a leading cause of sudden death in the workplace."

The agency even issued an alert in 1990 entitled Preventing Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits, which covers the harmful effects of the chemicals commonly found in these holding tanks.

In July 2007, five people died in a manure pit on a Virginia dairy farm from methane emissions. The county sheriff explained that "when these fumes hit you, it takes a matter of seconds, and it's my guesstimate that these people were dead before they actually hit the floor."