July 20, 2009

School Board Refuses to Hear Presentation on Public Health Risks

Roni Neff, PhD

Roni Neff, PhD

Research and Policy Director

Center for a Livable Future

On Thursday evening, my colleague, Jillian Fry and I went up to rural southern Pennsylvania with the intent of speaking to the school board of the South Eastern School District. We had been invited to speak by members of Peach Bottom Concerned Citizens to provide a summary of potential environmental hazards to schoolchildren and bus drivers, resulting from having school buses parked one-quarter of a mile from a proposed large-scale swine production facility in Peach Bottom. Specifically, there are concerns about exposures to bacteria (including antibiotic-resistant bacteria), toxins, allergens, viruses and other substances from riding or spending time around the school buses.

I saw my role as providing a summary of the science, separate from the politics. As it turned out, the politics were unavoidable. When we got to the meeting, I was not on the agenda. Maria Payans, a community member who had invited me, pulled out a stack of documents indicating she had gone through proper channels to have my talk put on the school board’s agenda. The school board took what turned out to be a long break to discuss the situation. When they came back, they read aloud the entire policy describing who could speak at meetings, but did not directly explain how they were interpreting it regarding whether I could speak.

When I later got up to speak as part of the public comment instead of the formal agenda, they said I had five minutes. It seemed for a moment like they were going to listen. But then they asked where I lived; I was dismissed on the grounds I cannot contribute comments because I am not a resident.

Many community members got up to speak, both expressing frustration with the situation, and also making their own statements about the public health concerns from parking school buses so near a proposed swine operation. A statement submitted by Amy Sapkota, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland (and a former CLF fellow), was also read aloud. In the end, a powerful and clear statement from community resident Mark Thomas defused some of the tensions, and several school board members did acknowledge the significance of the community concerns. They stated that Tuesday’s transportation committee meeting is a better place for this discussion. At least one school board member said that if the proposed facility is built, they will do what they can to protect the students’ health.

The York Daily Record wrote about the situation in the morning paper on Friday. Here is the presentation I would have given.

– Roni Neff


  1. Hats off to Dr. Neff and Jillian Fry and all of CLF for their undying committment to the public health of our children and community. Words cannot express our respect for your dedication. I was very disappointed that politics trumped the moral responsibility of our school board. Parents need to get involved. We all want to believe that people in decision making positions regarding our children would welcome the knowledge of medical experts. Parents and the public are invited tomorrow evening to hear Dr. Neff’s presentation. I hope our school board members will make an effort to attend. This is about planning and prevention. MRSA is killing more people than HIV. The meeting is at the South Eastern School District Administration Building in Fawn Grove,PA.

  2. Posted by laura yanney

    After attending the transportation board meeting at Pennsylvania’s South Eastern School District there is little doubt in my mind that those in charge of this small farming community will not heed the old adage of “closing the barn door before the cows get out” While it is my firm belief that being forwarned is forearmed, sadly this is not the attitude that is adopted by those who are responsible for transporting a most precious cargo- children. Adopting a wait a see attitude is preferred by this extremely close knit, close minded network of natives who see anyone without lineage to the area as interlopers. After being informed that there are no laws in the Commomwealth of Pennsylvania to keep known child sex offenders off school property then there is little doubt in this mothers mind that the state government has any interest in protecting children from the harmful effects of a factory farm. It is my suggestion to the community that they use the power of their votes and their voices to bark up bigger trees because those at the local level are not ready or willing to plan ahead…

  3. This is the html version of the file http://www.farmweb.org/Articles/CAFO%20Air%20Pollution%20and%20Children%20-%20A%20Prescription%20for%20Precaution.doc.
    Google automatically generates html versions of documents as we crawl the web.

    CAFO Air Pollution and Children: A Prescription for Precaution
    by Karen Hudson khudson@elmnet.net

    The vulnerability of children must be considered when identifying potential adverse health effects from Large Scale Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s). There are a few noteworthy research efforts in the literature that focus specifically on the effects of CAFO-generated air emissions on young children and children of farm operators. The literature contains numerous articles regarding the physical vulnerabilities of children to all types of air pollution due to size, age, and developmental status. Children are not just “small adults”. Their developing bodies are often more reactive to environmental irritants and toxins as compared to adults.

    In 2003, the American Public Health Association called for a moratorium on CAFO’s until more research is completed regarding affects on public health, specifically citing concerns regarding potential harm to reproductive health, infants and children. The Canadian Medical Association, the Michigan State medical Society, and most recently (in April 2007) the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons also called for a moratorium on CAFO’s. When we pair the two issues- Air quality and Kids and Air Quality and CAFO’s – we should recommend a “Prescription for Precaution” and protect young children from CAFO emissions until we have research that proves to the health community that CAFO emissions do not harm children.
    Ambient (outdoor) air pollution is now recognized as an important problem, both nationally and worldwide. Our scientific understanding of the spectrum of health effects of air pollution has increased, and numerous studies are finding important health effects from air pollution at levels once considered safe. Children and infants are among the most susceptible to many of the air pollutants. In addition to associations between air pollution and respiratory symptoms, asthma exacerbations, and asthma hospitalizations, recent studies have found links between air pollution and pre-term birth, infant mortality, deficits in lung growth, and possibly, development of asthma. (Ambient Air Pollution: Health Hazards to Children .Committee on Env. Health Policy Statemet Pediatrics, .Vol. 114 No. 6 December 2004, pp. 1699-1707 (doi:10.1542/peds.2004-2166)

    Being Small Makes a Big difference. Children two years of age and under have ten times the risk of adults from exposure to toxins. (M.Lorin, M.D. Baylor College of Medicine) (www.cleanhouston.org/health/health_effects/health7.htm)

    Ounce for ounce, children drink more water, eat more food, and breathe more air than adults resulting in disproportionately higher exposures to contaminants in water, food, and soil. (Envirozine, Children’s En.v Health Canada http://www.ec.gc.ca/EnviroZine/english/issues/20/feature2_e.cfm)

    It may also take even less exposure to a particular pollutant to trigger an asthma attack or respiratory event due to the sensitivities of the developing respiratory system. (www.cleanhouston.org/health/health_effects/health7.htm)

    Neurotoxins such as lead and other toxic chemicals, even at low levels, can disrupt the brain’s wiring causing permanent, irreversible learning and behavior problems. (Envirozine, Environment Canada. Children’s Env.Health (http://www.ec.gc.ca/EnviroZine/english/issues/20/feature2_e.cfm)

    Public health scientists now recognize that hydrogen sulfide is a potent neurotoxin, and that chronic exposure to even low ambient levels causes irreversible damage to the brain and central nervous system. H2S are present in CAFO emissions. Children are among the most susceptible to this poison gas. (J Environ Sci Health B, 200003, 35: 2, 245-58)

    Bacterial concentrations with multiple antibiotic resistances have been discovered upwind and downwind of swine facilities. Those working at the facility or who live in close proximity could be at risk for adverse health effects by exposure to large numbers of multidrug-resistant organisms. (Isolation of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria from the Air Plume Downwind of a Swine Confined Animal Feeding Operation. Shawn G. Gibbs et al., 1 University of Texas Health Science Center, School of Public Health)

    Recent research conducted by investigators in the University of Iowa College of Public Health has found that the prevalence of asthma is elevated among children living on farms where swine are raised. (Univ. of Iowa 12/04 http://www.uiowa.edu/~ournews/2004/december/120904asthma.html)

    Livestock-related odors in and around schools may indicate the presence of hazardous airborne contaminants from nearby CAFOs. (http://www.ehponline.org/docs/2006/114-4/ss.html )

    Recent research demonstrates that CAFOs can be sources of antibiotic resistant enteric bacteria that can lead to compromised environmental and potentially human health in ecosystems and populations adjacent to CAFOs. (http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/newscience/2007/2007-0513sapkotaetal.html Synopsis by Dr. Edward Orlando and Wendy Hessler)


    Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations Near Schools May Pose Asthma Risk. Children who attend school near large-scale livestock farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may be at a higher risk for asthma, according to recent study by University of Iowa researchers. The study, led by Joel Kline, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine, appears in the June issue of Chest, the peer-reviewed journal of the American College of Chest Physicians (www.chestjournal.org).

    The high prevalence of multiple resistance genes at a swine operation reported in a Johns Hopkins study suggests that airborne Gram-positive bacteria from swine operations may be important contributors to environmental reservoirs of resistance genes. Antibiotic resistance genes in multidrug-resistant Enterococcus spp. and Streptococcus spp. recovered from the indoor air of a large-scale swine-feeding operation.Sapkota AR, Ojo KK, Roberts MC, Schwab KJ. Department of Env.Health Sciences, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205-2103, USA.)

    The immune systems of infants are weaker than those of healthy adults. Their skin is thinner and more permeable, and they have a larger surface area for absorption relative to weight. The lungs and airways of infants are especially susceptible to harm from toxins, particulate matter and ozone in the air. (www.cleanhouston.org/health/health_effects/health7.htm)

    Research suggests exposure to odor has an effect on secretory immune function and is particularly important in that it documents a physiologic effect among neighbors of industrial hog operations. (Health Effects Associated with Exposure to Airborne Emissions from Industrial Hog Operations in Eastern North Carolina. Avery, R. Wing, S. et al Odor from Industrial Hog Operations and Mucosal immune function in Neighbors. Arch Eviron Health 59(2):101-108.)

    Recent research was performed to investigate relationships between school exposures and respiratory health of middle school–aged children. The findings identify a plausible association between exposure to airborne pollution from swine CAFOs and wheezing symptoms among adolescents. (Asthma Symptoms Among Adolescents Who Attend Public Schools That Are Located Near Confined Swine Feeding Operations)Pediatrics Vol. 118 No. 1 July 2006, pp. e66-e75 (doi:10.1542/peds.2005-2812 Maria C. Mirabelli et al.)

    Timing important factor in infant exposure. In its first two years of life, an infant has critical periods of development when even small amounts of a toxic substance can have a very serious, lifelong effect. Windows of vulnerability for brain development occur in these first two years. At this stage even a small dose of a particular toxin may be more devastating than a much larger dose at a different or later stage. Early infancy, childhood, and puberty are also critical windows of vulnerability for reproductive effects from exposure to toxins. Certain exposures during the infant or childhood stage could affect the development of the respiratory, nervous, endocrine and immune systems and could increase the risk of cancer later in life. (www.cleanhouston.org/health/health_effects/health7.htm )

    Air pollution also has been linked to a variety of respiratory illnesses, including permanent reduction in lung capacity and asthma. The number of U.S. children afflicted with asthma has increased dramatically: reports that between 1980 and 1994, the number of children under age four afflicted with asthma grew 160 percent; and according to Western Michigan University Office of Health Promotion and Education, the number of school-age children with asthma increased 100 percent from 1980-1998. (The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

    A study by the Pew Environmental Health Commission on the increasing incidence of asthma in the United States found that genetics “loads the gun” for a predisposition for asthma, but it is the environment that “pulls the trigger” on the alarming growth of this disease. (www.cleanhouston.org/health/health_effects/health7.htm)

    In recent research, fetuses appear to be particularly vulnerable to environmental toxins and may not be able to clear them from their bodies or repair damaged DNA. ( Perera, F.P. et al. Biomarkers in maternal and newborn blood indicate heightened fetal susceptibility to procarcinogenic DNA damage. (Environmental Health Perspectives 112, 1133-1136 (July 2004).

    The breathing zone for children is lower for children than adults, and heavier pollutants tend to concentrate at lower levels in the air. (http://www.ec.gc.ca/EnviroZine/english/issues/20/print_version_e.cfm)

    Asthma prevalence in rural children is comparable with that found in large cities of the U.S. Midwest. (Chrischilles et al., 2004). The potential induction of asthma is of special concern because its prevalence has increased 75% in the entire population (and 160% in children under the age of five) from 1980 to 1994 (Mannino et al., 1998).

    Repeated exposure to odorous irritants can induce chronic respiratory disorders including asthma (Anderson et al., 2003; Tarlo and Liss, 2003; Luo et al., 2003; Yang et al., 2003).

    The elevated vulnerability to environmental exposures in young children is due to the fact that they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults (Etzel, 2003; American Academy of Pediatrics, 1993). Children also have smaller narrower airways which allows for less room when mucosal swelling occurs. (http://www.ec.gc.ca/EnviroZine/english/issues/20/feature2_e.cfm)

    Direct health care costs for asthma in the United States total more than $8.1 billion annually; indirect costs (lost productivity) add another $4.6 billion for a total of $12.7 billion. (American Lung Association, 2002

    Children frequently spend more time outdoors engaged in vigorous movement activities (S.C. Environmental Health Services Center. 6/1/2007 Air Pollution and Children’s Health Andrea Aricko, Kim Preston, Hays Witt, John Peters.) They spend more time and play more vigorously outdoors, leading to greater exposure. They tend to focus less on symptoms, and they may not stop playing even if they are wheezing. (http://www.ec.gc.ca/EnviroZine/english/issues/20/print_version_e.cfm))

  4. My wife and I have been exposed for months to Hydrogen Sulfide. Most of the symptoms you describe are suttle, and only the beginning. Dimensia, brain damage, loss of vocal abilities, burning headaches, full ataxia and death follow. Death was the only step I missed. The source is a sewer pumping station and the Government is covering it up. Many of the unexplained neuro diseases of our time can most likely be traced to our sewage systems, but it keeps the general population unable to rebel. To cover it up they call it a smell problem, not a poison. An odor problem, not a poison. The truth is, it may be the source of dimensia, Alzheimers, parkinson’s, MS, and even autisum. Now you know why they want to cover it up.

  5. I am fighting my BOE re: a bus stop and also my children’s health issues: wheezing, asthma/allergies and trigger avoidances, and life threatening food allergies. I simply want the bus to stop at our driveway to avoid triggers and to ease in my other children’s health situations (avoiding driving them four times a day unnecessarily to a bus stop & not disturb their sleep). I did get the Superintendent to avoid a dangerous three point turn of the school bus and she agreed to turn at our large cul de sac instead. When I asked for them to stop and pick up my and neighbor’s children as the bus passed our homes, she refused giving NO REASON why not. I fought her and lost. They took the safer turn away (so we wouldn’t have the argument of passing our homes) and took away my Kindergarteners home drop off, leaving her at a bus stop alone down the street. I am now fighting them on medical reasons and they are refusing to have the bus stop. They are saying that it never even came down my road. It amounts to defamation of character. It goes on…I found a group with similar issues (in my town alone!!!) and I have heard complaints from two people over in next town. Similar simple requests being ignored. What is going on in BOE in this country?!?!?!?! WHat about safety for children??? With all the scientific knowledge and Amber Alerts and horrific tales children have endured, why not side with the safety of the children? I am all for saving tax dollars, but if they are using sooo much money hiring lawyers to fight parents, how much money are they truly saving?!?!?!?

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