Researchers studying the effect of airborne toxins on residents who live near large-scale poultry feeding operations hope to launch their project by December. 

They are in the process of recruiting members of 25 households located within 3,000 feet of poultry barns to help carry out their research. The study is being funded by a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Two Oklahoma University professors conducted a preliminary study during the summer of 2019 after Delaware County residents expressed concerns about the air emissions from industrial-scale poultry operations in the area. Their examination was prompted by concerns of residents who complained of the odor of ammonia and dust from poultry litter emitted by the PFOs.

Emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations have been a subject of concern for some time, but state and federal regulators have been slow — or declined — to address the issue. Among some of the constituents known to be released from poultry feeding operations are ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds and airborne particulates.

Occupational and Environmental Health Professor Margaret Levin Phillips said she and Assistant Professor Jooyeon Hwang applied for a grant after analyzing the data gleaned during the study. Phillips said she and Hwang learned in June the study had been funded, but getting the project off the ground was delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, which hindered their ability to have public meetings and recruit study participants.

“We planned this with the thought there would be a lot more construction of new farms,” Phillips said, noting that would provide an opportunity to collect baseline samples before broiler operations began, at the midpoint of growing cycle, and at the end of growing cycle. “We understand that because of COVID-19 there are not all that many farms coming into operation, so we are rethinking the timing and what we would consider the baseline.”

Phillips said researchers use special equipment to collect air and dust samples five times during a yearlong period from locations inside and outside participating households. She said “standard Q-Tips” will be used to collect any bacteria that might accumulate in the noses of study participants.

“These would not be like the deeply invasive nasal swabs like those people see when they are testing for the coronavirus,” Phillips said. “I need to be very clear about that — this is much, much less invasive — this is not that long swab, it’s a standard Q-Tip.”

Phillips said she anticipates data analysis will take about six months after the field work is completed. It could take several more months to prepare a report for the peer review process and publication.

Phillips said researchers are working with Green Country Guardians to find volunteers for the study. Volunteers must live within 3,000 feet of a PFO and be 18 years or older.

Pam Kingfisher, a consultant and founder of Green Country Guardians, has said studies like this are important because they help establish baseline data that can be used to raise public awareness. That data also can be used to support arguments for reasonable regulations that promote public health and safety.

Those who meet the criteria for eligibility and would like to participate in the study is encouraged to contact Phillips. She may be reached by telephone at (405) 271-2070, ext. 40415, or by email at margaret-phillips@ouhsc.edu.

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