Health Professional Sign-on Letter in Support of the Community Healthy Air Act
Please enter your information below the letter to sign-on and support the Community Healthy Air Act. National, state and local health professionals can be listed. A letter will be sent on January 10, 2018, the first day of the 2018 legislative session, although we will continue gathering signatures throughout the legislative session.
Dear Maryland Legislators,

We, the undersigned public health professionals, health care professionals, health care providers, and researchers, ask for your support for the Community Healthy Air Act. There are many known human health concerns associated with industrial broiler production, including those related to the exposure to air pollution from poultry operations. Below, we summarize the peer-reviewed scientific literature on these health concerns and provide context for the need for air monitoring in Maryland. We believe that the Community Healthy Air Act is an important step in protecting the health of Maryland’s citizens from the adverse impacts of industrial food animal operations.

Maryland produces approximately 300 million broiler chickens each year, the vast majority of which are produced on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (1), an area of about 3,300 square miles of land (2). Maryland ranked 9th in the nation in broiler production in 2015, producing approximately 1.7 million pounds of chicken (1). Research has shown that air inside broiler operations contains elevated concentrations of gases, particulate matter, pathogens, endotoxins and other hazards (3-8). Airborne contaminants from broiler operations are transported from broiler houses through large exhaust fans and may pose a health risk to nearby residents (4,9-16). Ammonia (17), particulate matter (10), endotoxins (15), and microorganisms (4,9,10) have been detected in air samples surrounding poultry operations. While there are currently few data available on odor, nitrous oxide, hydrogen sulfide, and non-methane volatile organic compound levels surrounding poultry operations, odors associated with air pollutants from intensive livestock hog operations have been shown to interfere with daily activities, quality of life, social gatherings, and community cohesion (13,18,19).

Exposure to airborne contaminants from broiler operations has been associated with a range of adverse health effects. Ammonia emissions have been implicated in respiratory health, with up to 50% of poultry workers suffering from upper respiratory illnesses that are believed to be due to ammonia exposure (11). Studies have shown that endotoxin exposure can exacerbate pre-existing asthma or induce new cases of asthma (7,13). And particulate matter—consisting mainly of down feathers, mineral crystals from urine, and litter—is associated with chronic cough and phlegm, chronic bronchitis, allergic reactions, and asthma-like symptoms in farmers, and respiratory problems in people living in the vicinities of operations (15).

A 2010 USDA study measured volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) inside broiler operations and found high levels of acetic acid, methanol, acetone, and ethanol (20); similar studies have not been conducted outside of broiler operations, and would help to characterize nearby residents’ exposure to VOCs. It is important to note that even broiler operations that employ best management practices and mitigation techniques have been shown to generate airborne contaminants (12).

Maryland currently operates 25 air-monitoring sites (21), only three of which are on the Eastern Shore (22). None of these monitors are located in the lower part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where the counties with the highest broiler inventories are located (22). Maryland Department of the Environment does not monitor (23) or regulate emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations.

In addition, we already know that asthma is a major public health concern in Maryland (24). In Wicomico County, one of the top broiler producing counties in Maryland (25), the rate of emergency department visits due to asthma among adults was double the rate of the state overall in 2009 (24). In addition to the morbidity and mortality associated with asthma, it also presents a significant economic burden, with asthma related hospital and emergency department visits nearing $100 million in 2009, and leading to thousands of hours of lost work and school days (24). In order to protect these vulnerable populations already suffering from asthma, and to ensure that Maryland residents are not affected by air pollution from intensive broiler production on the Eastern Shore, it is first necessary to identify and monitor emissions released from broiler operations.

In August 2016, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future commissioned a poll with the research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner to assess Maryland voters’ attitudes on broiler production. This poll found that more half of Maryland voters—52%—want more oversight of the poultry industry, while only 8% want less oversight of the industry. A strong majority of voters—58% statewide and 58% on the Eastern Shore—say they would be more favorable toward their state legislator if he or she supported proposals to increase oversight of Maryland’s poultry industry.

We urge you to pass the Community Healthy Air Act to better understand the effects of poultry production on Maryland’s residents.


{List of signatories}


1. Poultry. Maryland at a Glance Web site. Updated November 08, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.

2. Land areas, inland-water areas, and length of shorelines of Maryland's counties. Maryland Geological Survey Web site. Updated 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.

3. Spencer JL, Guan J. Public health implications related to spread of pathogens in manure from livestock and poultry operations. In: Public Health Microbiology. Vol 268. Springer; 2004:503-515.

4. Graham JP, Leibler JH, Price LB, et al. The animal-human interface and infectious disease in industrial food animal production: Rethinking biosecurity and biocontainment. Public Health Rep. 2008:282-299.

5. Graham JP, Price LB, Evans SL, Graczyk TK, Silbergeld EK. Antibiotic resistant enterococci and staphylococci isolated from flies collected near confined poultry feeding operations. Sci Total Environ. 2009;407(8):2701-2710.

6. Donham KJ, Wing S, Osterberg D, et al. Community health and socioeconomic issues surrounding concentrated animal feeding operations. Environ Health Perspect. 2007:317-320.

7. Kirychuk SP, Dosman JA, Reynolds SJ, et al. Total dust and endotoxin in poultry operations: Comparison between cage and floor housing and respiratory effects in workers. J Occup Environ Med. 2006;48(7):741-748.

8. Burkholder J, Libra B, Weyer P, et al. Impacts of waste from concentrated animal feeding operations on water quality. Environ Health Perspect. 2007:308-312.

9. Baykov B, Stoyanov M. Microbial air pollution caused by intensive broiler chicken breeding. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 1999;29(4):389-392.

10. Literature review of contaminants in livestock and poultry manure and implications for water quality. United States Environmental Protection Agency Web site.;. Updated July 2013EPA 820-R-13-002.

11. Nahm K. Environmental effects of chemical additives used in poultry litter and swine manure. Crit Rev Environ Sci Technol. 2005;35(5):487-513.

12. Rice J, Caldwell D, Humenik F. Animal agriculture and the environment: National center for manure & animal waste management white papers. American Society of Agricultural; 2006.

13. Heederik D, Sigsgaard T, Thorne PS, et al. Health effects of airborne exposures from concentrated animal feeding operations. Environ Health Perspect. 2007:298-302.

14. Viegas S, Faísca VM, Dias H, Clérigo A, Carolino E, Viegas C. Occupational exposure to poultry dust and effects on the respiratory system in workers. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A. 2013;76(4-5):230-239.

15. Cambra-López M, Aarnink AJ, Zhao Y, Calvet S, Torres AG. Airborne particulate matter from livestock production systems: A review of an air pollution problem. Environmental Pollution. 2010;158(1):1-17.

16. Graham JP, Nachman KE. Managing waste from confined animal feeding operations in the United States: The need for sanitary reform. Journal of water and health. 2010;8(4):646-670.

17. Fairchild B, Czarick M, Harper L, et al. Ammonia concentrations downstream of broiler operations. The Journal of Applied Poultry Research. 2009;18(3):630-639.

18. Donham KJ, Wing S, Osterberg D, et al. Community health and socioeconomic issues surrounding concentrated animal feeding operations. Environ Health Perspect. 2007:317-320.

19. Wing S, Wolf S. Intensive livestock operations, health, and quality of life among eastern North Carolina residents. Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108(3):233-238.

20. Trabue S, Scoggin K, Li H, Burns R, Xin H, Hatfield J. Speciation of volatile organic compounds from poultry production. Atmos Environ. 2010;44(29):3538-3546.

21. Ambient air monitoring network. Maryland Department of the Environment Web site. Accessed November 16, 2017.

22. Current ambient air monitoring network map. Maryland Department of the Environment Web site. Accessed November 16, 2017.

23. Ambient air monitoring network plan for calendar year 2018. Maryland Department of the Environment Web site. Published June 20, 2017. Accessed November 16, 2017.

24. Asthma in Wicomico County, Maryland. Asthma Control Program. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Family Health Administration, Center for Maternal and Child Health Web site. Published August 2011. Accessed November 16, 2017.

25. Poultry-inventory and sales, 2007 and 2012. United States Department of Agriculture, Census of Agriculture. Washington, D.C.: National Agricultural Statistics Service. Web site. me_1,_Chapter_2_County_Level/Maryland/. Published 2012. Accessed November 16, 2017.

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