Congress: Is manure hazardous waste?

WASHINGTON - Spring has arrived in official Washington, bringing cherry blossoms, baseball and the politics of poop.
calendar icon 4 April 2007
clock icon 1 minute read

It comes in the form of a question raised by some Farm Belt lawmakers on Capitol Hill: Should manure be classified as a hazardous waste?

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, says manure was never intended to be regulated under the nation's Superfund law, created by Congress to clean up toxic spills and dumps such as the notorious Love Canal. He's one of 85 co-sponsors of a bill that would exempt manure from the law.

"Unless Congress acts, farmers across America could face vast liabilities under environmental laws that were never intended or envisioned to be used against farm operations," said Skelton, who called farmers "some of the best environmentalists around."

Environmentalists say it would be a mistake for Congress to let polluters off the hook for cleanup costs. They note that large farms in the United States produce an estimated 500 million tons of manure each year, or roughly three times the amount of waste produced by humans. Unlike human waste, most livestock waste is not treated, and as the manure decomposes, it produces toxic gases such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. The operations can also pollute water with nitrogen and phosphorus and other materials.

"We don't think the consumers in the community should have to foot the cleanup costs," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's environmental quality program.


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