Clearing the Air in CAFOs

Published on July 10, 2014

Dust and gasses that accumulate in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can pose a serious respiratory health risk to workers, yet research indicates that few wear protective masks on a regular basis. A better—and more cost-effective—way to reduce worker exposure may be to install a ventilation system to control contaminants in a facility, according to Renée Anthony, assistant professor of occupational and environmental health.

In a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, the researchers developed and ran computer simulations of various air pollution control systems currently on the market to evaluate their effectiveness in agriculture buildings. Using real-time room concentrations of dust, ammonia, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide from a sample swine farrowing facility during the winter months, the model examined operation costs and how effectively the systems removed contaminants.

“Producers indicated that the per-pig cost has to be low in order to be viable,” says Anthony. “We were surprised at the number of ventilation options that reduced hazards at well below $1 per pig.” Anthony said this is less than what it might cost to provide respirators and training for workers throughout the year. The researchers are now testing systems in an actual swine farrowing facility to determine if they get similar results in the field.

One contaminant that was still difficult to control in each simulation was carbon dioxide. Anthony says it might be possible to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations by changing the heater in the farrowing rooms, which she plans to test in the future.