San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution and the Factory Dairy Industry

“Not in my cuppa”, say the British, when asked if they would drink factory milk from cows living in crowded stalls 24 hrs per day. 

In the UK, they are using examples from the San Joaquin Valley to show the negatives of this type of farming.

Meanwhile, Fresno, Tulare, Kings, and Kern counties suffer from the dirtiest air in the nation.  The bad air is from smog during the warmer months and fine particulates in the winter.  Industrial dairies contribute significantly to both types of pollution.

Nearly a million cows are milked every day in these counties.  Counting feedlots, the area is home to over 2.5 million cows in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s).

These four counties produce 2.5 billion gallons of milk annually.  1500 trucks per day are crisscrossing the southern valley floor delivering raw milk to processors.  1000 more are delivering feed daily. Very few industrial sized dairies grow more than 20% of the total feed consumed by their cows.

These trucks add a lot of air pollution in the form of sooty diesel exhaust and NOx (Nitrous Oxides).  The feed itself is another source of pollution.  Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) evaporate from the silage and later come out of the cows as they try to digest a food that is good for milk production but not for their gut.  These emissions mix together to form smog in the warm seasons.  Smog sears the lungs of those breathing it.

The huge amounts of waste produced by these cows continually rots and evaporates into the air.  Ammonia, in vast quantities, evaporates and mixes with NOx emissions to form a fine particulate called ammonium nitrate during the winter.  Ammonium nitrate can damage arteries from the inside out after it enters the body through the linings of the lungs.  It is also known to increase significantly the premature birth rate which is far above average in these counties.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Board was forced through a Clean Air Act lawsuit to make rules controlling these types of emissions from dairies.  The rules made were very weak and in effect, simply reflected the best economic practices available and did not change the status quo.  Dairymen ironically praised the rules when they were made while air quality advocates protested strongly their ineffectiveness.  More work remains in this area.

Climate change emissions are also huge from dairies, mostly in the form of methane.  Instead of regulating these emissions directly, the California Air Resources Board decided that capturing methane from dairies could be an offset for big greenhouse gas polluters like refineries and power plants under cap and trade rules.

1 thought on “San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution and the Factory Dairy Industry

  1. Almond orchards give me severe asthma, but I still like the valley and choose to live here. There’s been Ozone here in the valley long before white man ever set foot on the North American Continent. There are native plants that produce it naturally. People are suffering and dying from environmental extremism. Wouldn’t it be better to help them solve the problem rather than destroying their only means to survive. Maybe they don’t see what you see. Reaching out, helping, finding reasonable alternatives and treating others as you would like to be treated would do a great deal more than condemning people who are having a difficult time as it is? Walk a mile in their shoes first. Thanks.

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