The Battle Over Air Quality near Factory Farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

Twenty-four years ago, Sam Berley bought a little house on a quiet stretch of Backbone Road in rural Princess Anne, Maryland. Today, the house appears tiny, because it’s dwarfed by six massive metal barns that together house more than 250,000 chickens. The closest one is just 240 feet away.

Berley often stays inside with the windows closed to avoid the awful stench that comes and goes; his neighbor Lisa Inzerillo, who lives about a mile down the road—beside other concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—does the same. “At night, we turn on a flashlight … and it looks like it’s raining outside there are so many particles [in the air],” she said.

Inzerillo and Berley want to know what exactly those particles are and what breathing them in every day might mean for their health. While there are some statistics showing high rates of respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hard numbers about the air (and therefore how it may relate to those conditions) on the Delmarva Peninsula are lacking.

When a group of Delmarva residents tried to bring their concerns about air quality to local agencies a few years back, Maria Payan recalls, “The county was like, ‘We can’t do anything for you, because we don’t have Maryland data.’”

Payan is an organizer with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project (SRAP) who moved to the Delmarva Peninsula—the area where Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia meet—after abandoning her house in Pennsylvania because her family’s quality of life had been destroyed by a trifecta of neighboring poultry, hog, and beef CAFOs. She has been organizing around the issue for years—meeting in people’s kitchens, building coalitions among local groups, and gathering research data. Payan is just one player involved in a larger battle to gather adequate data about air quality in the region; elements of her story are featured in the new documentary Right to Harm. 05-20-19

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