Sunday 17 February 2019

Groups Call for Moratorium on Chicken Houses on Eastern Shore

  • Tuesday, 08 September 2015 10:53
  • Written by 


Environmental groups call on state to restore funding for monitoring and consider moratorium on construction of new poultry houses


Washington, D.C. -- Despite the continued over-application of poultry manure to Eastern Shore farm fields, Maryland dramatically cut back water quality monitoring while the industry continues to expand, according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project.

The growth of the poultry industry makes it harder to understand why Maryland last year eliminated almost 60 percent (9 of 16) of its water quality monitoring sites that measured phosphorus pollution in rivers that run through the center of the poultry industry and into the Chesapeake Bay.   

 “It is penny-wise and pound foolish to stop monitoring Eastern Shore streams for nutrients while phosphorus builds up in the watershed and the industry keeps building new poultry houses,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and former director of civil enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency.  “We need to monitor water quality to find out whether efforts to keep the poultry industry’s pollution out of the Chesapeake Bay are actually working.”

At least 200 new poultry houses are permitted for construction on the Delmarva peninsula, including 67 to 70 in Somerset County, Maryland.  This growth threatens to undermine any progress the state might achieve through its June 2015 manure management regulations, called the Phosphorus Management Tool (or PMT).

The Environmental Integrity Project and allied organizations – including the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health’s Center for a Livable Future, Food & Water Watch, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, and Assateague Coastkeeper – call on Maryland to consider a moratorium on the permitting or construction of new poultry houses until the PMT is fully implemented in 2024 and the phosphorus overload problem is under control.

"The high concentration of poultry waste on the Eastern Shore damages the ecosystem on which human health depends and exposes the people of the region to antibiotic resistant bacteria present in the waste or carried into homes by wind and flies,” said Dr. Robert Lawrence, founder of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. “Continued expansion of the poultry industry will increase these threats to human health and should be stopped."

The groups also call on the state and federal governments to immediately restore funding for water quality monitoring on the Eastern Shore, which is needed to determine if the PMT is working to reduce runoff from agriculture, the largest single source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.

“The rural communities of the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia could be dramatically altered if hundreds of additional mega-sized poultry houses are allowed,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “We should place a moratorium on the construction of these facilities before our air, water and local economies are assaulted by these under-regulated businesses, many of which are owned by out-of-state interests.” [Read Waterkeepers Chesapeake's full statement]

The new Environmental Integrity Project report, titled “More Phosphorus, Less Monitoring,” indicates that nearly 80 percent of the phosphorus in manure spread on cropland by Maryland poultry operations was applied to soils that already have too much phosphorus, based on the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s criteria.   And almost all of the manure “exported” to other farms stays within the Eastern Shore. 

The data was obtained from state records called “Annual Implementation Reports” that were filed by Maryland poultry operations in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. The reports detail the amount of phosphorus in poultry litter that large poultry operations applied to crops on their land, and how much is needed for plant growth.

An Environmental Integrity Project analysis of the 2013 annual reports filed by 498 poultry operations that raised nearly 277 million broilers revealed that:

• Ninety three poultry operations spread poultry litter containing 886,158 pounds of phosphorus to more than 18,000 acres.  Seventy nine percent of that phosphorus was spread on soils that already contained well beyond the amount needed for crop growth, based on soil phosphorus concentrations.

• Twenty-six poultry operations spread 6 percent of the total phosphorus to 1,312 acres of cropland where phosphorus levels are so high that application of more phosphorus is now banned by new state regulations.

• Three hundred and sixty-one poultry operations exported 215,349 tons of poultry litter containing over 5 million pounds of phosphorus to other destinations in 2013. Of the total phosphorus exported, 73 percent went to other farmers, largely on the Eastern Shore.

During a time when it was developing its new phosphorus management regulations, Maryland in December 2013 shut down 9 of its 16 long-term water quality monitoring stations on Eastern Shore waterways surrounded by the poultry industry, citing federal budget cuts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program.