Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs have drastically overestimated poultry industry contributions to water pollution, according to a University of Delaware-led study and reported in the Delaware News Journal.  James L. Glancey, a professor in the university’s Bioresources Engineering and Mechanical Engineering departments, said that the multi-state study, based on thousands of manure tests, found that actual nitrogen levels in poultry house manure are 55 percent lower than EPA’s decades-old, lab-based standards.

Glancey said that research in Sussex County concluded that poultry houses there generated 261,723 tons of manure for one year studied, far lower than the nearly 1.5 million tons assumed using EPA models.  Genetic improvements in birds, improved growing environments, and other strategies to limit waste and pollutants all have had an effect on the industry’s environmental footprint, Glancey said.

“The assumptions being used today are based on conditions not relevant to how chickens are being raised today,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.   “The amount of pollution attributed to chicken manure, if the Delaware numbers are correct, are way off base.”

Federal and state environmental agencies have focused heavily on pollution from animal manures and farms across the country as a big part of efforts to eliminate bay and river dead zones and harmful algal blooms in recent decades.  The Delmarva Peninsula’s poultry industry became an early, major battleground for the issue during the late 1990s.

The results of the University of Delaware study could lead to a formal proposal for changes to the Chesapeake Bay Program’s six-state pollution forecasting models, used to guide a federally-backed attempt to restore the bay’s health and ecosystem and assign cleanup goals.  “I think this is a precedent-setting kind of thing, but we’re not quite sure how it’s going to propagate through the United States,” Glancey said after giving a briefing on the findings at the State Department of Agriculture on Tuesday.  “Everyone’s watching it, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.