Md. health official offers to be a resource on chicken farms
— Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Director of Environmental Health Dr. Clifford Mitchell offered to serve as a resource to citizens with health concerns related to a large chicken farm proposed for the Zion area Tuesday morning.
“I’d be happy to be a resource for more questions,” Mitchell said after being asked by County Executive Tari Moore. “My number is 866-703-3266.”
The exchange took place
during a meeting with the Cecil County Board of Health during a council work session Tuesday morning.
Mitchell joined Cecil County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity and County Environmental Health Director Fred von Staden to address continuing concerns coming from citizens and county officials in an attempt to explain regulations for raising chickens for commercial use and to determine if Cecil County needs to tweak their codes for future projects.
At the center of the controversy is a plan to build four chicken houses on a 220- acre dairy farm at 80 England Creamery Road, which is owned by Galen and Crystal Horst. The proposal has had strong opposition from neighbors and other concerned citizens worried about public health and potential decrease in property values if the project goes through.
“The Horst chicken house proposal exceeds regulatory and recommended standards for placement of the chicken houses and it will have a comprehensive
review of its handling of manure and livestock before they will be allowed to place birds (in the houses,)” von Staden said, as he summarized findings of his department’s research into the project.
Chicken houses fall under the category of animal husbandry operations in the Cecil County Zoning laws, which stipulate a minimum setback of 100 feet from the property line and 300 feet from the nearest dwelling.
The Horst chicken houses are proposed to be setback 600 feet from the property line and 800 feet from the nearest dwelling, which von Staden noted “far exceeds the minimum requirement in Cecil County and exceeds guidelines established in Wicomico County.”
Von Staden explained that a health impact assessment that was done in April for a proposed poultry feeding operation in Wicomico County that proposes to build 13 chicken houses revealed some detrimental air quality effects on those working inside a chicken house, but unclear results when emissions are diluted outside the chicken houses. Actual concentrations of contaminants detected at surrounding residences were much lower than those known to impact human health, the study said.
Also, the Wicomico County Health Department found no correlation between locations of animal feeding operations and wells with high nitrates, considering the county’s 110 poultry operations permitted by Maryland Department of the Environment.
Before the Horst Farm can receive MDE approval for a chicken feeding operation, they will have to get a general discharge permit for stormwater prior to construction of the chicken houses, which requires state approval of all manure removal and storage processes, how birds are delivered and shipped and how dead birds are handled, von Staden explained.
The state also requires the farm to have a state-approved nutrient management plan and a conservation plan. Citizens will be able to request a public hearing once MDE receives an application for a general discharge permit for animal feeding operations and a public notice is published.
If MDE issues the permit, the operation is required to file annual implementation reports with Maryland Department of Agriculture and Maryland Department of the Environment and the general permit must be renewed every five years.
Councilman Alan McCarthy asked if there was a chance that nitrogen could overload the soil on the chicken farm.
“Nitrogen levels in the soil are controlled by required nutrient management plans,” von Staden said. “Safeguards are already in place.”
He explained that Maryland implemented new animal feeding operation regulations, known as CAFO and MAFO, in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Both the Horst Farm and the Meck Farm near Earleville are contracted to raise organic chickens for Perdue Farms commercial food business. Neither farm can use antibiotics on the chickens.
As a result of the Wicomico County health impact study, von Staden said, there was a few policy recommendations made for consideration.
They recommended to adopt legislation adding setback and buffer requirements consistent with the Delmarva Poultry Industry’s Best Management Practices for Good Neighbor Relations, increase communication with the poultry farmer, reducing odor impacts by implementing a manure management plan and increasing funding for data collection, analysis and education related to respiratory disease and illness.
Dr. Clifford Mitchell, left, director of environmental health for Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Cecil Health Officer Stephanie Garrity and Cecil Director of Environmental Health Fred von Staden discuss poultry feeding operations and health issues Tuesday.
County Executive Tari Moore participates in the Board of Health meeting Tuesday to discuss a proposed chicken operation and potential health impacts.