Are Eastern Shore Chicken Houses Polluting our Air?

Photo: Edwin Remsberg

Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore relies on the poultry industry to drive a lot of its economy, with big names like Perdue and Tyson Foods. But does booming business come at a cost to the air we breathe?

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is looking to find out, sampling the air from newly installed monitoring stations near the Shore’s large poultry houses.

MDE will begin to collect data on levels of ammonia and air particles to compare them with air quality in other parts of Maryland. It’s part of an agreement between the Delmarva Poultry Industry and the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment. Together they’ve committed more than $500,000 to the effort, known as the Lower Eastern Shore Ambient Air Quality Monitoring Project.

MDE will be in charge of collecting and analyzing air monitoring results for one year. Then, the department will review the project’s results and determine whether further steps need to be taken.

“The Hogan administration is committed to sound science and environmental leadership in agriculture,” said Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles. “This innovative partnership for air quality monitoring will provide useful information to the public.”

In addition to measuring ammonia and particles, the two new monitoring stations will collect weather information. One will be installed upwind from a poultry house, and the other, downwind. Their specific locations near poultry houses will depend on where power is available. The stations will also need to be installed away from trees and man-made structures that could interfere with the data collection.

The new monitoring stations’ data will be compared to data gathered at existing MDE stations— one further north on the Eastern Shore and one on the western shore— to provide “baseline levels” of ammonia and particles.

-Meg Walburn Viviano