STERLING A federal review of dirt particles has some Kansas farmers wondering how they would be expected to produce without kicking up the dust that is a normal byproduct of working the land.
The Environmental Protection Agency is required to review its airborne pollutant standards every five years under the Clean Air Act. That includes “coarse particulate matter,” which includes dust. A draft report issued by the EPA in July would tighten air particle standards from 150 micrograms per cubic meter to between 65 and 85 micrograms.
Mark Smith, president of the Kansas Livestock Association, tells The Hutchinson News that it would be nearly impossible for farmers to meet such low levels.
“I don’t think there is a day in the western United States that at that level, it would be attainable,” he said.
Supporters of reducing the standards cite health problems caused by the dust particles. A 2005 EPA report found that agriculture tilling and confined animal feeding operations are the largest contributors to ag-related dust in the central United States. Kansas leads the region in both those areas.
The particles that the EPA is considering regulating include diesel exhaust from tractors and trucks, animal manure, insecticides, pesticides and soil, said Diane Tinker, development director for the American Lung Association in Kansas.
She said research has shown the particles can cause early death, heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks, and have been linked to lung cancer. She estimates 2,000 people in Kansas have lung cancer.
“Once the EPA determines what that level should be, then state and local folks will be able to come together — including farmers — to decide how best to move forward,” she said. “Bottom line, this standard will help protect the health of people in farms and farm communities.”
A bipartisan group of 75 lawmakers, including Kansas Reps. Jerry Moran, Todd Tiahrt and Lynn Jenkins, wrote to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in late September expressing concern about the impact the draft proposal would have on rural America.
The same issue was discussed five years ago, but the EPA curtailed the effort after the previous EPA director visited a farm and said the rule wasn’t designed for agriculture settings, said Steve Swaffer, director of natural resources for the Kansas Farm Bureau.
“Go out to plant or spray or harvest, you generate dust, period,” Swaffer said. “I don’t know how you could control it.”
And he said lowering the standards wouldn’t just affect farmers and ranchers.
“You regulate the dust off county roads, how does a county tax base pay for that?” he questioned.