Earthjustice, on behalf of the Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, the Humane Society of the United States, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance, filed a lawsuit on Wednesday challenging a 2008 decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exempting concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from requirements that they file reports on airborne emissions.

In response, the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association this week issued the following statement:

“The reporting exemption granted by EPA in 2008 was based on the fact that ammonia emissions from poultry houses pose little or no risk to the public, and emergency reporting would be an additional burden on emergency response personnel.

“This was verified in a report titled ‘Ammonia Concentrations Downstream of Broiler Operations‘ published in the Journal of Applied Poultry Research. Researchers at The University of Georgia found that ammonia concentrations at distances of 100 feet from the poultry houses were observed to be less than 3 parts per million. This is lower than the odor threshold of 5 to 53 parts per million reported by the National Research Council in 2002.

“In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences released a report titled ‘Emergency and Continuous Exposure Guidance Levels for Selected Submarine Contaminants.’ This report established 90 day continuous exposure guidance levels to prevent immediate or delayed adverse health effects for submarine crew members that might result from continuous exposure to chemical substances lasting up to 90 days. The report determined that crew members confined in a submarine could be exposed to ammonia at a concentration of 10 parts per million continuously for 90 days and experience no immediate or delayed adverse health effects. When compared to the University of Georgia study, this is more than three times the concentration of 3 parts per million observed at a distance of 100 feet from the poultry houses.

“EPA also recognize farmers have no reliable means to know how much, if any, ammonia they emit on a daily basis. To address this, animal agricultural groups entered into a voluntary agreement with the EPA to collect data on air emissions from livestock operations. This data will be used to develop technical guidance that will allow farmers to reasonably estimate emissions from their farm. Reporting without the appropriate technical guidance would be purely speculative.

“Requiring farmers to report to emergency personnel without technical data to authenticate potential emissions would at the least waste first responders time and at the worst preoccupy them from concentrating on an actual emergency.”


When the exemption was initially created in 2008 under the Bush administration, environmental groups almost immediately challenged the decision, arguing that it violated federal right-to-know laws. The suit was dismissed, however, after the Obama administration indicated the exemption would be adjusted. The environmental groups are now contending that EPA, under the Obama Administration,  never moved to vacate or revise the exemption. Therefore, the environmental groups are now requesting that the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia re-open the case to review their original petition and order EPA to make a decision to remove the exemption.