With no help from their state representatives, some residents of the lower Eastern Shore have sought help from a Montgomery County Democrat to address health problems blamed on an explosion of large poultry operations.

Respiratory problems have been linked to ammonia, hydrogen sulfides and particulates venting from rows of large industrial fans in chicken houses. Large poultry operations have increased dramatically in the last decade, according to residents who testified in Annapolis on Tuesday.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring the Community Healthy Air Act, a bill that would require Maryland Department of the Environment to determine if the agency, and large scale poultry operations, are in compliance with Clean Air Act standards — specifically pollutants from concentrated animal feed operations, or CAFOs.

One-year study called too short

The one-year study would require MDE to monitor air quality near poultry operations, but Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., a nonprofit that represents chicken growers, says the one-year study would not be long enough to yield accurate results and questions “whether MDE has the money and expertise to do what this bill will require.”

“CAFOs can be significant sources of air pollution,” said Brooke Harper, chair of the Maryland-NAACP Environmental Justice Committee, before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs committee on Tuesday. “Exposure to airborne contaminants have been associated with adverse health effects such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses.”

Harper said the required study under the bill, SB773, would help determine if Wicomico County’s 100 chicken operations are a cause of Maryland’s highest rates of lung and heart disease. She said Wicomico also has the highest rates of emergency room visits due to asthma.