Frequently Asked CAFO Questions
No, it is not illegal to spread CAFO manure waste on the ground. While this website describes many different situations in which a CAFO may be spreading their waste on land, and many possibly harmful effects of that activity, it is not of itself illegal. It is illegal if a CAFO spreads waste in such a manner that it moves off the land and into waters of the state, and this "discharge" causes or contributes to a violation of Michigan's water quality standards in waters of the state.
What is in CAFO manure?
CAFO manure contains the animals' feces and urine, plus, the definition also includes other materials such as bedding, compost, and other raw materials. CAFO manure is also loaded with the plant nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms if released to surface water, and pathogens such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), and other fecal coliforms.
Manure may also contain:
There are 168 chemicals in and around manure according to a 2001 USEPA Report (Appendix A, page 235-244).
Methane digesters do not:
Can composting the manure solve the CAFO's waste problem?
In short, no. And, as you read the bulleted list below, remember that a Michigan CAFO can have a compost pile within 200 feet of its neighbor.
What is a CAFO discharge?
Discharge means any direct or indirect release of any waste, waste effluent, wastewater, pollutant, or any combination thereof into any of the waters of the state or upon the ground. View the Part 21 DEQ Wastewater Discharge Permit Rules, 67KB pdf.
Are CAFO operators allowed to spread animal waste on snow?
The real answer should be "no, not under any circumstance."
Instead the answer to this question is "maybe". How would you find out?
Are CAFO Operators allowed to dump manure in piles on fields?
This is a grey-area question. By dumping manure piles, a CAFO creates an off-site production area of waste. This off-site production area cannot discharge to waters of the state. See page 6 of the Part 21 DEQ Wastewater Discharge Permit Rules for the official definition of "production area".
Are CAFO Operators allowed to spread waste before precipitation or rainfall?
This can also be a cloudy area. If you go the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality CAFO website, scroll down to download the 2-page PDF Instructions for Determining Precipitation Forecasts to see how weather forecasts are applicable to CAFOs. You may use the instructions along with the CAFO's CNMP to determine if they are spreading waste in violation of their NPDES permit.
The photo at right, taken in Lenawee County just before a predicted rainfall, shows manure waste application on a fairly steep slope.
Is there a time of year when CAFOs can't spread wastes?
Not necessarily, this may be different for each CAFO. Each CAFO's NPDES permit guides what can and cannot be done.
Are there fields CAFOs can never spread waste on?
Yes. Soil testing for phosphorus must be done for fields that will be used for land application of CAFO wastes. If the soil tests indicate high amounts of phosphorus, a CAFO cannot apply waste to that field. That information is included in the Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan.
How far away does the CAFO waste have to stay from water, lake, wetland, and so on?
This refers to a "setback", and the required setback information would be found in the CAFO's NPDES permit.
Is it legal for CAFO operators to spill the waste in the road?
No. However, you would need to contact your local road commission or police department to file a complaint on this issue. Unless the spill gets into waters of the state, or is an extreme amount, it is necessary to contact the government agency that has jurisdiction over roads.
Do I need to worry about a CAFO going in near my house?
What will happen to my property values with a CAFO nearby?
How does the CAFO waste end up on my property?
CAFO waste can be sprayed, irrigated, blown by the wind, spread further through surface ponding of rainfall, or from runoff that may reach your property. High powered fans used to cool the hundreds of animals in the buildings often blow out bedding or other contaminated materials.
Are there human health effects from exposure to CAFO manure?
Yes. Many people have become ill living near and working at CAFOs. Some people develop breathing problems, coughs, headaches, hydrogen sulfide poisoning, and ammonia poisoning. Here are two articles from Environmental Health Perspectives: Health Effects of Airborne Exposures from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and The Potential Role of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations in Infectious Disease Epidemics and Antibiotic Resistance.
What do I do when they are spreading CAFO waste next to my house?
First, this activity may not be illegal. But there are provisions the land applicator must follow to protect your home and property. So first, to be safe - get your children indoors, close your windows, and take down your laundry. Then start documenting your observations, in case the activity is causing a problem.
How do I document the activities I observe about the CAFO?
In a nutshell, you will take pictures, take water samples, and even smell the water at your own risk (smell it for manure or some other wrong smell.) Carry a notebook and keep information, such as a journal or a checklist. Have someone else verify your information, if at all possible.
Without trespassing onto private property, and only working from the road-right-of-way, or from the property of a landowner who gave you permission, take photos of:
How can I protect myself while monitoring?
You must never trespass. Check for road right-of-way distances. Realize that state highways are different than local roads. A CAFO operator may file charges against you if you are trespassing on their property. If you plan to access a stream away from the road, you must get permission from the landowner.
What should I do if I see:
Yes. A CAFO can go after you if you report them. Some agencies take anonymous tips, and you can report them that way. Remember that documentation is extremely important, so be diligent in your investigation before you report a violation. Always document your investigation, and always be credible.
Why is my lake green? White? Black? Brown?
Is the wetland on my property dead because of CAFO waste?
Water testing is needed to verify if there is waste in the wetland. Though water quality standards are slightly different, E. coli and other fecal coliforms may still signal the presence of fecal material in the wetland.
Is it safe to touch the water? No. Never assume that water is safe near a CAFO or a land application site. Always wear clean rubber gloves. If bloodworms are present in the water, this can be an indicator that you may get hepatitis if you are not wearing gloves. You could also get cryptosporidium, giardia, pfisteria, or other illnesses from the fecal matter in the water. If you have an open cut anywhere, you may want to have your companion take any water samples.
What do I do if I fall in the water?
Depending where and how you fall in, clean up as soon as possible.
Is a roadside ditch considered part of the surface water?
You would have to contact the proper agency to make this determination. If the roadside ditch connects to waters of the state it may be considered surface water, open drain, or county drain.
What do I do if you see dead fish downstream from the CAFO?
Document the dead fish by taking pictures; count how many and what kind if you can identify them. If there is a large number of dead fish, such as any number above 8 or 10, contact the agency in charge in your state. In Michigan this would be the Department of Natural Resources. You should also notify the MDEQ.
Where do CAFOs keep their animals?
All the animals are kept inside large cramped barns, they are not allowed outside to graze.
What types of water pollution can come from CAFOs, and what health problems can arise?
Surface and groundwater pollution can come from CAFOs. Groundwater contamination can cause E. coli poisoning and blue baby syndrome. Surface water contamination can cause illness from cryptosporidium, giardia, and pfisteria. See How do CAFOs pollute water?
What kind of air pollution can come from CAFOs, and what health problems can arise?
There are over 168 chemicals in and around manure. Some of the main gases are methane, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. You may have trouble breathing when the CAFO operators are spraying the fields with waste. If you feel ill from waste application, notify your local health department or physician immediately. See How do CAFOs pollute air?
What is a CAFO permit and where do I find it?
Michigan CAFOs are required to have only one permit. It is a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES permit, given to authorize discharges to waters of the state only under particular circumstances. By signing the permit application, a CAFO owner shows good intentions to do the right thing. But the permit is only as good as the management at the CAFO. Permits do not guarantee compliance with the law. They do not protect public health. Remember, from a CAFO's point of view, it is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission!
You can find NPDES permits at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation website. Be sure to see How to apply for a NPDES permit. You can also see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency NPDES webpage, note the upper left corner of that home page references the federal Final 2008 CAFO Rule.
There are two categories of NPDES permits for CAFOs. Some CAFOs are required to apply for an Individual NPDES Permit, that is written specifically for that one particular CAFO. Others are allowed to apply for a Certificate of Coverage (COC) to be covered under the CAFO General Permit, where the terms of the permit are applied to all the CAFOs with COCs. The General Permit language assumes all the CAFOs covered are alike, so they all have the same requirements. See the MDEQ CAFO website for more information.
The agriculture department says they follow generally accepted agricultural management practices (GAAMPS) and the "MOU". What is this?
See GAAMPS The Michigan Right to Farm Act, P.A. 93, was enacted in 1981 to provide farmers with protection from nuisance lawsuits. This state statute authorizes the Michigan Commission of Agriculture to develop and adopt Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) for farms and farm operations in Michigan. These voluntary practices are based on available technology and scientific research to promote sound environmental stewardship and help maintain a farmer's right to farm.
See MOU. This refers to a Memorandum of Understanding between the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, entered into for the purpose of delineating the respective roles and responsibilities regarding state agency response actions to environmental and nuisance complaints about farm operations.
What organizations can help you find information about CAFOs?
There are many organizations that can help.
Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM)
Society for Responsible Agriculture
U.S. EPA (Visit state agencies for your state)
Also visit CAFO Help Contact Info for more information.