MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A farmer-owned cooperative in west-central Minnesota disputes a report that says toxic gas emanating from its manure lagoon is a potential health threat.
The Minnesota Department of Health determined that the lagoon at ValAdCo -- one of the state's largest hog feedlots -- produces levels of hydrogen sulfide that are high enough to cause nausea, headaches and other problems.
''We do not believe that our facilities have caused any health risk to anyone,'' ValAdCo chief executive officer Eddie Crum said Sunday evening. ''We certainly are not there to harm anybody.''
The findings marked the first time that the Health Department determined that a feedlot's emissions were found to pose ''a potential threat to human health.''
Julie Jansen of rural Olivia said she cried for three hours Friday after receiving a copy of the Health Department memo, which was sent to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
But she wasn't crying because she feared for her health, she said from her Renville County home about 1 1/2 miles from the ValAdCo hog operation.
''It proves everything I've been saying for the past five years. I've known it all along. I just couldn't prove it,'' she said.
The findings are significant and a cause for concern, said Kathy Norlien of the department's Health Risk Assessment Unit, who wrote them up.
Norlien's memo to the MPCA stated that her department ''believes that, without delay, actions should be taken to reduce the emissions'' and bring them in compliance with Minnesota rules ''for the protection and well-being of human health.''
The Health Department has monitored ValAdCo for the past two years and found hydrogen sulfide levels far exceeding the state standard for the foul-smelling gas, which is 50 parts per billion. The monitoring showed levels above that on 53 occasions in 1998 and 106 occasions last year, according to a department memo written to the MPCA on Tuesday.
On 100 occasions over the two years, the level was 90 parts per billion or more. Because the monitor doesn't read above 90, the actual levels could have been higher. Some studies suggest that high levels of hydrogen sulfide can cause respiratory problems, nausea, sore throats and headaches.
''If you have (more than 50 parts per billion) once or twice, what do you get, a headache or nausea?'' Norlien said. ''We don't like to see that. But this is quite a bit above that. So we're concerned.''
The report came as a surprise because ValAdCo has been working with the MPCA to monitor emissions and develop plans to address problems, Crum said.
ValAdCo pays for the monitoring, which is done by an independent consultant who submits reports simultaneously to the state and the cooperative, Crum said. ''Unfortunately, it's sort of being used as a hammer against us,'' he added.
Crum said ValAdCo is proud of its facilities and is working to reduce emissions as much as possible using current technology.
''We're recognized, within the framework of our industry, as a leader in environmental stewardship,'' he said. ''Our intent is certainly to be a good steward and a good neighbor.''
The farmer-owned cooperative pledged to work with the MPCA in 1998 when it became the first feedlot to be found in violation of state standards. Owners covered ValAdCo's lagoons with a plastic-like sheeting and straw in September 1998, but the recent data indicate it didn't solve the hydrogen sulfide problem.
The ValAdCo site, near Olivia, has housed as many as 7,200 finishing hogs -- those that are being fed or ''finished'' for market -- and 5,700 baby pigs. Liquid manure is stored in a large outdoor lagoon that has been the source of neighbors' complaints. Jansen said she had to close down her day-care operation because the odors made children sick.
The Health Department findings could help shape state regulatory policy and bring relief to others who, like Jansen, believe that large feedlots near their homes are making them sick, said Suzanne McIntosh, program director for the Clean Water Action Alliance.
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