Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
Summer 2000
Public Concern Grows with Feedlot Size
Broken Bow, a Custer County community of about 4000, is located in central Nebraska where the rolling hills and farms of the east give way to the sandhills and ranches of the west. Livestock operations, large and small, are common in this primarily agricultural landscape. But as much of the state has experienced recently, the largest operations have grown to sizes unimaginable just a few years ago. The Broken Bow area is now home to the largest cattle feeding operation in the state: Adams Land & Cattle Company. As its size has increased, so have concerns and complaints from Broken Bow residents.
Jim Sexson of DEQ’s West Central field office in North Platte changes the filter of an air particulate monitor in Broken Bow.
The Adams Land and Cattle south lot (Adams also owns a considerably smaller cattle operation to the east of Broken Bow) is located about two miles south of Broken Bow, west of Highway 21. The feedlot has a capacity of 85,000 head of feeder cattle on nearly 600 acres. DEQ’s involvement with regulating the feedlot goes back to the early days of the department: the first entry in the Adams facility file is a 1972 inspection report of a 2000 head operation which noted no problems. And there have been few regulatory problems since.
“It is a well-run operation in compliance with our livestock waste management regulations,” said Dennis Heitmann, supervisor of DEQ’s Agriculture Section. “It was the first and possibly still the only one in the state with a computerized watering system used to control dust.”

In addition to the dust control system, the Adams feedlot uses other management practices to control potential sources of odors, dust, and insects, Heitmann said. These include regularly removing manure from pens, aerators in holding ponds, restricting animal movement, and regular cleaning of debris basins. He noted that due to recent changes to Title 130 (state livestock waste control regulations), the Adams operation and many others across the state will need to submit additional information to the department concerning their odor control practices, operation and maintenance practices, emergency response plan, and nutrient management plan.

Despite compliance with state livestock waste regulations and a technologically advanced operation, complaints from Broken Bow residents about dust and odors prompted DEQ to check the air around the operation for TRS (total reduced sulfur). TRS is a toxic air contaminant sometimes detected near wastewater facilities, lagoons, livestock operations and other facilities where decay is present. Hydrogen sulfide, a component of TRS, was detected downwind from the Adams facility, so the department decided to begin monitoring air quality in Broken Bow.

Two types of monitors were installed: two PM10 monitors (one in Tomahawk Park, one on the roof of the high school) to measure small particulates such as dust, and one TRS monitor (inside the city shop, measuring the air outside). Hard-to-diagnose mechanical problems plagued the TRS monitor for several months, but it has been collecting data since March. There were also problems and possible vandalism with the Tomahawk Park PM10 monitor, but it has monitored reliably since December 1999.

“The monitors were located in areas where we would expect public exposure and according to established siting criteria to eliminate potential interferences,” said Shelley Kaderly, DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator. “These locations, rather than at the boundary of the Adams facility, will give us information on whether levels of particulates and TRS in the air are above established standards to protect public health.”

The results of monitoring so far should be encouraging to the citizens of Broken Bow. None of the three monitors have shown any violations of state standards -- air contaminant levels intended to protect public health. The PM10 monitors will continue collecting data until at least December; the TRS monitor will continue until at least March 2001. A minimum of oneyear’s data will be collected from each monitor to provide the department with a sound basis for determining if there are any health-related air quality concerns associated with PM10 and TRS.
“The reason for complaints from Broken Bow may, in the end, be a situation which must be resolved locally,” said DEQ Director Mike Linder. “Should air monitoring readings continue to remain low, the situation involves an odor problem, but not a violation of state air quality standards. The Department of Environmental Quality has no authority to regulate odor.

“When a community or area is confronted with complaints of odor and DEQ determines its regulations are not being violated, the options for resolution rest with local government. The community or county must look at its zoning authority or police power to address odor issues. In the meantime, in Broken Bow’s case, we will continue monitoring and conducting routine inspections of the facility’s waste control systems.”
Broken Bow monitoring information is available on the DEQ website: under Agency Programs/Air and Waste Man. Div./Air Quality/Ambient Air Monitoring Data.
Article by Rich Webster

Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
1200 "N" Street, Suite 400
P.O. Box 98922
Lincoln, Nebraska 68509
(402) 471-2186