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New program seeks to improve air quality on pig farms

Xufei Yang surveys the concentration and size of airborne particulate matter inside a wean-to-finish barn.
Xufei Yang, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at SDSU, surveys the concentration and size of airborne particulate matter inside a wean-to-finish barn.

• SDSU assistant professor awarded nearly $500K grant to develop measurement technology
While air quality within and around swine farms, and how it impacts individuals near these facilities, are commonly studied environmental health issues, there is a lack of technology that can measure the particulate levels reliably and objectively.

Two agricultural organizations, with the help of two professors, including one from South Dakota State University, are working to change that.

In an effort to measure and continuously improve air quality in and surrounding swine production facilities, the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, in partnership with the National Pork Board, is launching the Improving Swine Production Air Quality Program. FFAR is providing $500,000 in grant funding, with matching funding from NPB for a total $1 million investment.

The program is developing objective particulate matter measurement technologies for large-scale assessments of particulate levels on and near swine farms. As part of this program, FFAR and NPB awarded grants to Xufei Yang, assistant professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering at SDSU, and Jiqin Ni, professor of agriculture and bioengineering at Purdue University.

Yang received $499,817 to develop swine farm particulate matter measurement technology designed to be reliable, low cost and user-friendly. The project relies on obtaining large amounts of high-quality particulate matter measurement, which are essential to developing and calibrating predictive models of particulate matter emissions that can assess worker and community safety and health risks. The new predictive models and measurement protocols can be used to develop and evaluate particulate matter mitigation methods and technologies.

Producers, farmers and regulating agencies could then use the resulting methodologies and technologies on a large scale to quantify particulate exposure and reduce associated health and safety risks.

“Air quality issues like odors and particulate matter pose a challenge for the swine industry. This program evidences the commitment of the industry to ensuring good environmental stewardship and public relations,” Yang said.

“Our research project aims to identify and develop cost-effective methods for measuring the concentrations and composition of airborne particulate matter inside and near swine barns. It also will involve source attribution—determining particulate matter sources and their respective contributions. Such knowledge will be critical for the mitigation of health and safety risks associated with particulate matter exposure,” Yang added.

Ni received $500,086 to develop an innovative Particulate Matter Monitoring Station (PMMS) for exposure monitoring. The PMMS will be portable, fast response, sensitive, low cost and easy to operate. The PMMS will be calibrated against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated particulate matter measurement methods.

“Particulate matter from swine production facilities has been long perceived as a farm hygiene issue and a nuisance by farm workers and neighboring communities,” Ni said. “This research will help with obtaining large amounts of objective and reliable particulate matter concentrations and their distributions. These concentration data will help producers understand the actual issues with particulate matter at swine production and take appropriate protection or mitigation measures.”

Reliable air quality assessments, generated using objective methods and metrics, are critical for understanding the source of swine production particulates and developing continuous improvement efforts.

Currently, air quality measurements specific to swine farms are lacking. Most existing air quality assessment methods are developed to measure particulate matter found in indoor environments that are different from that found in swine farms or to measure particulate matter found in ambient air.

Particulate matter found in swine farms is different from ambient particulate matter on several characteristics including particulate matter source, size, composition and concentration amongst others.

Existing particulate matter measurement methods are high cost, have complex operational requirements and have slow responses, which can introduce bias. Lack of reliable measurements is preventing the development of effective strategies to improve air quality.

“Poor air quality can have harmful effects on farm workers, their animals and the neighboring communities,” said Constance Gewa, FFAR scientific program director. “In order to improve air quality on swine farms, the current amount of particulate matter on and around farms needs to be accurately and reliably measured. However, current particulate matter measurement methods are not specific for agriculture.”