Hog hell

It’s not just large dairies that are creating controversy in Michigan. Giant hog farms are also cropping up in some rural areas of the state, and in the opinion of people such as Jerry Burns they are drastically affecting the quality of life in their rural communities.

The 82-year-old Burns, who was born on his family’s 147-acre farm about 45 miles northwest of Lansing, thought he would live his final days there in peace. But that was before a 7,000-pig farm went up a half-mile from his home about four years ago.

“We were used to farm odor,” he says. “But this is not farm odor.”

The smell is not all that concerns Burns. He worries about the possible effects the farm may have on the health of area residents.

North Carolina has grappled with these same issues. In 1999, after the state’s hog population jumped from 2 million to 10 million in just seven years, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Department commissioned a study that showed that people living near one 6,000-hog operation developed respiratory and gastrointestinal problems at a higher rate than in two otherwise similar communities. Those working on hog farms have similar health problems, says epidemiologist Steve Wing who headed the study. He does not know what specifically causes the health problems, but says that the gas and dust from manure may be part of the problem.

Similar concerns are surfacing in Michigan. Coldwater resident Pete Travis says his health deteriorated after a 4,000-hog farm moved in about 750 feet from his home.

“It’s so bad when you go outdoors, you vomit,” says the 54-year-old man, who developed asthma and chronic bronchitis after the farm went up in the rural community 50 miles south of Lansing.

Travis and another family sued Preston Farms in Branch County Circuit Court for violating a local ordinance that prohibits “obnoxious” and “continuous” odor and dust from crossing property lines. Each family was awarded $29,000 in 1999, but Preston is appealing the case.

“Nothing’s changed,” says Travis. “They’re still in operation.”

Read more about Ann Mullen's investigation in "The big stink" and "Dutch lessons."

Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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