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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 23, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 18
Oil Mist Reduces Airborne Hazards in Swine Feeding

By Tim Parsons
Bloomberg School of Public Health

A specially developed oil mixture reduced airborne levels of particulate matter at a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, in a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The researchers evaluated an oil spray developed to reduce the airborne health hazards at industrial feeding facilities. Chronic respiratory illnesses are a serious concern for CAFO workers, as well as for the surrounding communities and animals themselves. The study, published in an online edition of Environmental Science and Technology, measured indoor air pollution in a mid-Atlantic swine facility. It found 10-fold reductions in the amounts of dust and bacteria in a barn where the spray was used compared with an identical barn where no spray was used. In contrast, however, the oil spray did not impact levels of ammonia, another pollutant generated from CAFO facilities.

"From the perspective of worker and community health, this is a step in the right direction," said Ana Rule, the study's lead author and a doctoral candidate at the Bloomberg School's Department of Environmental Health Sciences. "This technology addresses only a portion of the hazards workers and communities face from concentrated animal feeding facilities."

Rule said there is growing interest in technologies that improve indoor air quality and control emissions to reduce the public health and environmental risks associated with raising large numbers of animals in confined spaces. In addition to particulate matter and ammonia, recent studies have shown that concentrated feeding operations also produce antibiotic-resistant pathogens. The oil spray technology provides animal producers with a tool to reduce some air pollution hazards to workers and neighbors, and helps them comply with local, state and federal air pollution regulations. Although substantial improvement in barn air quality was achieved in the Johns Hopkins study, questions remain as to whether it is enough to protect public health.

"We need to continue our collaboration with the private developers of these products to not only improve their efficacy but to also demonstrate their utility in other agricultural operations, including poultry and dairy," said the study's senior author, Timothy J. Buckley, a former associate professor at the Bloomberg School who now chairs Environmental Health Sciences at the Ohio State University School of Public Health. "These results are encouraging, but much work remains to be done."

The study was supported by the NIOSH Education and Research Center for Occupational Safety and Health and the Center for a Livable Future, both at the Bloomberg School. Co-authors are Rule, A. Chapin, S.A. McCarthy, K.E. Gibson, K.J. Schwab and Buckley.


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