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July 23, 2009

Calif. Residents Ask Water Board To Address Pollution From Egg Farm

The Humane Society of the United States

Central Valley residents and The Humane Society of the United States have filed a petition with the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board concerning a major egg factory farm's practice of dumping enormous amounts of manure on ground next to a ditch that drains directly to the San Joaquin River.

The waste is the result of Olivera Egg Ranch's intensive confinement of more than 700,000 hens in cramped, barren cages that were recently banned by Proposition 2. The ban goes into effect in 2015.

The petition alleges that manure from the facility may contaminate the local residential water supply, which may have happened in recent weeks.  The petition also explains that Olivera recently used an enormous backhoe to dig out tons of wet and solid manure from its 16-acre manure cesspool, and then simply dumped it within feet of a ditch connecting to the San Joaquin River.

Local residents and The HSUS filed suit against the facility in October 2008, when the nearby community could no longer endure the drop in quality of life from the smells and dangers from exposure to toxic pollutants, including ammonia in violation of federal and state environmental law. Local residents have also asked the federal district court in Sacramento to impose sanctions against Olivera Egg Ranch for allegedly attempting to destroy evidence. According to the neighbors, after local residents discovered Olivera's actions, the facility began working in the middle of the night to conceal its actions.

The petition states that Olivera's actions present a serious risk of spreading virulent diseases, including avian flu. Avian flu can be spread through poultry feces, and the virus can survive in surface water for months. Because of its proximity to the San Joaquin River, contaminated water can potentially infect other animals and humans long after it has left Olivera's facility.

"Studies have shown that water coming into contact with chicken excrement can contain bacteria capable of causing serious human illness, including multi-drug resistant bacteria and one of the most dangerous of the newly-emerging 'superbugs,'" said Michael Greger, MD, The HSUS' director of public health and animal agriculture. "Studies have shown that operations cramming birds into cages have 20 times the odds of Salmonella contamination than cage-free farms. It's time to phase out these inhumane and unsafe confinement practices."

Facts:

  • The prestigious Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a report revealing that factory farms harm rural communities and lead to poverty, crime, and a less active "Main Street."
  • Ammonia is a colorless, pungent gas commonly released by chicken manure.
  • Ammonia is classified as an "extremely hazardous substance" and contributes to odor nuisances. Inhalation can cause irritation, lung damage and even death to humans, and it causes chronic stress to farm animals.
  • In addition to releasing noxious chemicals like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, the animal agriculture industry releases 18 percent of greenhouse gases — higher than the amount contributed by cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles together.
  • The Emergency Planning requires certain facilities that release certain amounts of harmful contaminants to report those amounts to state and local emergency response teams. Under these laws, the EPA requires ammonia reporting if the release is 100 pounds or more based on its chronic toxicity and residence time in the environment.
  • Factory farms often spread waste on the ground untreated — contaminating our water, soil and air.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — on the web at humanesociety.org.

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