Real farm, mock checkup Dry run: EPA trainees practice looking for harmful runoff at Eastern Shore operation


August 06, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

KENNEDYVILLE -- Pat Langenfelder got a preview yesterday morning of the environmental scrutiny that all large Maryland livestock farms might face in the near future.

About 25 inspector trainees with the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental offices of surrounding states converged on her Kent County farm.

They were looking for evidence of harmful byproducts from the manure streaming from the 2,400-hog operation. Those byproducts could seep into the waters of nearby Morgan Creek and eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

The inspector trainees looked at the mustard-green slime produced from the flow of hog manure from a breeding barn into a 1 1/2 -acre storage lagoon.

They asked what the farm does with dead hogs.

They wanted to know how many pesticides and herbicides are used on the 2,300-acre farm and how often the oil was changed in the farm machinery.

Some of the more hardy inspectors trudged through the thick vegetation to the bank of Morgan Creek looking for signs of pollution runoff.

Langenfelder; her daughter, Kristen Knickerson; and son, Bill, took the questions in stride. They knew this wasn't the real thing.

It was a mock inspection set up by the EPA as part of the training program to teach inspectors more familiar with the operations of automobile assembly plants, steel mills and other factories how to detect violation of environmental regulations on the farm.

It was the second of three scheduled pilot training programs organized by the EPA, according to Al Havinga, with the agency's Office of Compliance, Agriculture and Ecosystem Division, in Washington.

The first was held this year at cattle farms west of Chicago. A third is scheduled for the Birmingham, Ala., area this month, Havinga said.

Langenfelder said the family operation, Grand View Farm, is conscientious about protecting the environment and had a nutrient management plan long before the state began discussing making one mandatory.

Despite that, she said, her initial response to being told the farm was about to get a surprise inspection would probably be: "Oh, God."

"I say that even though I truly don't feel like we are doing anything unacceptable," she said.

Havinga said the most likely situation is a farmer's getting a call from EPA inspectors informing him that there will be an inspection the next morning or the day after.

He said an inspection might last two to four hours, or could drag on for 24 hours depending on conditions at the farm.

The mock farm inspection came after two days of classroom work at a hotel in Annapolis for 33 students, said Jesse N. Salter, a policy analyst with Science Applications International Corp. in Dunn Loring, Va. The company was training the inspectors under contract with the EPA. The training program lasts four days.

He said the students were from Maryland and surrounding states.

"It has been a learning experience," Bill Gersting, with the EPA office in Wheeling, W.Va., said of his trip to the farm. "I normally inspect industrial plant and municipal waste-treatment plants."

Congress gave the EPA the power to regulate the nation's biggest livestock operations more than 20 years ago under the Clean Water Act. But it has been a low priority.

There are about 450,000 feedlots for cattle, pigs and poultry in the United States. Only about 1,600 of the very largest have EPA permits.

A toxic Pfiesteria outbreak last summer that led to the closing of parts of three Maryland rivers flowing into the bay has the EPA considering new regulations for large poultry farms.

Under an EPA proposal designed to curb runoff from livestock operations, most of Maryland's large poultry farms and other livestock operations would be regulated as potential sources of water pollution. The new regulations could go into effect between 2002 and 2005.

Did the Langenfelder farm pass its inspection?

"I can't say," Salter said. "If this was the real thing, the inspectors would gather information and take it back to their office, where decisions would be made on the farm's compliance with environmental regulations."

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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