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No matter how you slice it, meat, which is laden with cholesterol and saturated fat, has been shown to contribute to a number of common ailments, such as heart disease. Alarmingly, however, a new report suggests that regardless of your food choices, simply living near a factory farm may contribute to poor health.
Earlier this week, Steve Wing, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, presented a recently published paper that finds an association between air pollution near pig farms and higher blood pressure rates among residents living around the farms.
In the study, participants living near 16 different industrial pig farms sat outside for 10 minutes, twice a day. They reported levels of factory farm-related odor and measured their blood pressure. The conclusion? The participants experienced acute blood pressure increases that could lead to chronic hypertension from the bad odors.
In a prior study, Wing detailed the symptoms experienced by North Carolina residents living near pig factory farms. The symptoms included eye irritation, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, sore throat and nausea.
The health hazards are not surprising when you consider that 168 gases are emitted from massive animal agribusiness factories, including hazardous chemicals like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane.
That’s what happens when you force thousands of animals to live in small spaces; the waste builds up and has to go somewhere, so these operations typically concentrate the untreated animal waste in large underground pits and outdoor manure “lagoons.” Natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, can break manure lagoons, and if farmers empty the lagoons in preparation for an impending storm, the manure can quickly wash off and pollute human water supplies.
Wing’s work illustrates not only the environmental and public health issues involved with factory farming but also social justices issues; pig factory farms are often located in poor, minority communities.
How can you help? The best way to protect our own health as well as the health of animals and the public is simply leave animals off our plates. We can also speak out about these issues by talking with our elected representatives to push for strict environmental regulation (and enforcement) of factory farm pollution as well as advocate for the banning of the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on factory farms.