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Air Pollutants Eyed From Poultry Barns

The federal government could shut down barns because they emit toxic air pollutants.

It hasn’t happened yet, nor is it likely to happen without plenty of warning. But the fact remains that the gases and tiny particles coming from barns include ones that are officially deemed toxic and open to regulation.

Dr. Bill Van Heyst, an environmental engineer at the University of Guelph, told poultry producers here what he’s done so far to measure the air pollutants from chicken facilities, and it’s a long way from being a comprehensive picture for the industry.

His work so far has been in a room of 545 layers in a barn at the University of Guelph’s Arkell Research Station. Now he’s looking for an egg producer situated near Guelph to volunteer his facility for the next phase of research.

What he’s learned so far is that volumes of small particles, about 10 microns wide, spike when the lights come on and birds begin to stir.

Volumes of the tinier particles, less than 2.5 microns wide, tend to be more stable over a 24-hour period.

These tiny particles are a health concern because they can go deep into lungs, get into a person’s system and prompt adrenaline levels to spike. That can, in turn, cause a heart attack.

Ammonia gases are another issue. They spiked whenever the manure belt was activated.

Van Heyst said that likely happened because the crust on manure laying on the belt was broken, allowing pent-up gases to escape.

Ammonia is a greenhouse gas. So are nitrous oxide and methane which are also emitted from barns. Methane is a bigger issue with ruminants than with poultry, but it is emitted from poultry litter because of the activity of microbes.

Van Heyst said his first goal is to quantify the air pollutants from typical poultry operations. The next steps will be equipment and management practices that will reduce pollution and that will likely lead to development of best practices.

It’s only at that stage that governments would begin to consider regulations, he said. But regulation is the likely approach because there are few ways of reducing air pollution without increasing farm costs.

Van Heyst was speaking at the regional poultry producer update session here, organized by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Poultry Industry Council.

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