The Texas Observer reports that fecal dust is choking the communities living in the Texas Panhandle, and the state’s regulatory agency isn’t helping the issue. The Texas Panhandle produces a fifth of the U.S. beef supply.
The article shares the story of a farmer, Lawrence Brorman, who owns a cattle farm but not the cattle. The cattle belong to a company called Southwest Feedyard, which holds 45,000 heads of cattle in what is described as “bare-dirt pens for months at a time.” This is just a small part of a collection of operations that are in the Panhandle. The article sets out a visual of Brorman working in his farm and paints a picture of a summer day during a drought: these particles fill the air in dense plumes that block out the sun. These particles are what scientists call “fecal dust,” which is created by the wind sweeping up tiny fragments of dried manure from the feedlot’s surface and blowing it across the farm.
Sometimes the wind is high and creates a wall of dust that flows through the town. It coats homes and businesses while limiting visibility on Highway 60 to the point that those driving need to turn on their headlights even if the sun is still out. Brorman tells the Observer that when you go outside, this dust burns your nose and your eyes. It brings such a nasty odor that is so intense that you can smell it from inside the farmhouse even if the doors and windows are closed.
There have been several complaints from 2008 to 2017 about this shust or shog (a combination of the words shit and dust or fog — coined by those living in the area). Brorman has submitted formal complaints to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and so have others. People have said that the dust blankets the entire community — that it’s sometimes difficult to breathe. Another complaint described a brown haze of dust and the morning air being filled with a nasty smell.
The Observer along with the Food & Environment Reporting Network and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting investigated how this fecal dust impacted the community over a period of four months. They also noticed that TCEQ, despite the fact that the organization sends investigators to the site of a complaint, has seemed to do nothing about it. There has been no enforcement action — no fines, warnings, or any type of reaction from the agency.
In fact, TCEQ authorized a new feedlot to be built right across from Brormans’s home and it will have a 50,000-head facility. That means that 50,000 more cattle will be contributing to this fecal dust. Jaime Brorman, the wife of the farmer, has asthma and mentions to the Observer that she doesn’t go outside much due to her health.
Lawrence also shares his story about having to work while breathing in this horrible air and then says that he has to disrobe in his garage because he doesn’t want to wear the manure-soaked clothes in his home. He says that when he showers “the first thing you smell is crap,” and describes something that we would imagine being described in a decontamination shower. “Whenever that water hits your skin and your hair and you’ve got that manure all over you, it just smells like manure in there for a second,” he told the Observer. The article paints a horrifying story, especially for those who have breathing problems such as myself. You can read the full article here.
I have asthma. When I read the first paragraph of the article, my immediate thought went toward the idea of my lungs struggling to handle that. Many who don’t have asthma don’t understand what it is like. Imagine a straw. It’s small already, but imagine that it is squished. This straw is your airway. The harder you try to breathe, the harder it is to breathe. Each gasp leaves you feeling helpless and your body struggles to take in the air yet it can’t get. It’s like you are drowning in air. As your body struggles to breathe, you find yourself in sheer panic mode.
The fact that Brormer’s doctor advised her to move is not only disturbing but alarming as well. It’s disturbing because having to leave your home just so you can breathe seems extreme. This is why it is also alarming — the fact that someone is unable to go outside because she can’t breathe due to pollution needs to be addressed.
Beef consumption isn’t going to go away, especially in Texas. However, I think that being aware of issues such as what these farmers are going through just so you can have that bloody rare steak on your plate should make you realize just where your food comes from.
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