Air Pollution Why Cows Are Bad for the Air

Table of Content

The environment we live in is one the most important factors in life and with a polluted, unhealthy air, this can cause health issues and environmental damage. With the growing population and higher demand on foods, this is causing more product animals and crops to appear adding more pollution to the air. Most of the pollution that’s colorless is methane gas from cow manure, which is considered a greenhouse gas. For those who don’t know what a greenhouse gas is, greenhouse gases contain carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons. This world is already filled with all different types of greenhouse gases and this resulted in the average temperature of the earth’s surface to rise about 0.6 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s. With that said, this is a major issue we as a society need to resolve in order to reduce the risk of environment changes such as severe storms, floods, and droughts from global warming.

Weather is not the only thing we need to worry about, but also the rise of sea levels. With this issue, this is a problem that gets worse and worse if this trend proceeds. Negative environmental changes will fragment the ecosystem leading to the extinction of sermons species. Exposure to high levels of methane can be extremely dangerous resulting in increased breathing rate, suffocation, or nausea to name some examples. The report released from The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said, “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” (S. Henning) With animal manure, the public see’s it both an asset and liability. The asset that is you can turn animal manure into a fuel, therefore reducing your budget on energy. Liability for the obvious reason, that it creates a carbon footprint.

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There are also other things that tie in with farm pollution and one of the major ones I will be talking about is the vehicles the farms use and transportation of these goods. Most of the trucks that leave in and out from farms use diesel, a major contributor to carbon emissions. Not only the trucks that are transporting the goods but also the agriculture machinery such as tractors and soil cultivators. Farming is described as a science. Crops in the agricultural industry can thrive or fail in many different ways. Gas leaks and such chemicals from the agricultural machinery getting onto the crops have a major impact of the growth.

This is an issue that many farms face and needs to be resolved. With the demand for produce that’s increasing every year, even more, trucks are getting dispatched, creating even much more of a carbon footprint. I will be focusing on how farms, primarily dairy farms, are polluting our surroundings and what steps we can take to resolve this on-going issue. My main goal in this paper is to inform the reader how much pollution modern farmers are producing and what steps we can take to create a more sustainable and healthy environment. There are several steps to turn the standard farming methods used today into a more sustainable and eco-friendly environment and the major topic I will be most dwelling on will be cow manure. Demand is at an all-time high right now and its just going to increase more and more as the years go along. With that said, that’s going to create more demand for food which causes agriculture productions to increase resulting in more manure. Manure which is one of the leading causes of air pollution at standard agricultural farms. With all this manure from animals, especially dairy cows, we can turn this into a renewable source of energy. Not only that, there are several different benefits such as using their dung as a fertilizer.

There is nothing new in the U.S. farm consolidation but with the recent changes that were made, they’re transforming farms into the worst. According to the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), more than 500 cows from Wisconsin dairy farms grew by 150 percent in the past decade. With that rate of cows being produced, this is causing more manure to be piled on which is one of the leading cause of our pollution. A statement from the EPA claims that 2,000 dairy cows generate more than 240,000 pounds of manure daily. That’s about 90 million pounds a year. With all that manure, imagine how much nitrogen that’s creating. Speaking of nitrogen, I quote from an article I read called “As Dairy Farms Grow Bigger, New Concerns About Pollution” explained that, “The USDA estimates that the manure from 200 milking cows produces as much nitrogen as sewage from a community of 5,000 to 10,000 people.”(Elizabeth, G)

The main culprit of all this pollution is the fumes from nitrogen-rich fertilizers and manure. This can create a major source of diseases and death. Since most pollution from agriculture farms come in a form of ammonia, the gases from the heavily fertilized fields and manure enters the air as a gas. Steinfield, H from the article Livestock’s Long Shadow explains that “In terms of polluting gaseous emissions not linked to climate change, livestock waste emits a total of 30 million tonnes of ammonia. This is focused in areas of high animal concentrations, where ammonia is a factor in the occurrence of acid rain, which affects biodiversity. Livestock contributes 68 percent to total ammonia emissions.” (Steinfield, H) As you can see, this is one of the major negatives of proceeding with the typical farming methods. Once in the air, the gas combines with other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulfates from vehicles and industrial processes which create aerosols. When aerosols are in the air, the tiny particles can penetrate deep into the human lungs which is a leading cause of heart or pulmonary disease. Now the question is, how can we eliminate all this cow manure and pollution in a sustainable environmental friendly way? Well, for most farms, a lot of people see the manure as money. Dairy cow manure is a very useful source that can be used for biogas to generate energy that can power many facilities around the area. The biogas can also be upgraded to become biomethane which is a natural gas substitute.

A fancy way to call this is anaerobic digestion. The basics of this systems imply organic material such as animal wastes and its put into a digestion tank. Once in the tank, it can be turned into a biogas which can then now be used is several beneficial ways. Some other ways besides electricity and fuel include Thermal, solid products such as compact or animal bedding and liquid products like organic fertilizers. As you can see, not only animal waste can create a source of energy but also can have many other beneficial uses. For a good example, when we visited Fair Oaks Farm they explained to us that they want to turn Fair Oaks Farm into something bigger. The farm is now decided to build hotels across the street with several different facilities and they plan to power it all using renewable energy. They also plan to power the nearby shops and gas stations with the dairy cow manure. Now there was a study done that I found in an article I read called “Biogas production from a different type of cow manure” with different types of manure from different kind of cows. Some examples of the cows the abstract mentioned were high cows, which are regularly milked cows, pregnant cows, fresh cows, young cows, and cows younger than 7 months.

What the scientist was looking for in the manure were the carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins. The results vary from cow to cow and they found that the highest methane yield was found in the manure of fresh cows. The measurement for all three-parameter determined the effects on the biogas production. Cow poop is extremely high in organic materials and rich in nutrients, usually containing about 3% nitrogen, 2% of phosphorus, and 1% potassium. Some of the benefits of energy generated by manure are that it reduces the GHG emission significantly, according to K. Oehmichen, D. Thrän. GNG is a greenhouse gas that is absorbed into the air, trapping and holding the heat in the atmosphere. This results in global warming so with that said, manure energy is the sustainable way to keep this environment health. Even though this is definitely a pro to this side, there also is a negative. Reducing methane emissions can be extremely costly and time consuming to the ones who are acting. Even though manure is one of the leading cause of our pollution, there is also another major factor that ties in with the farm industry.

Trucks that arrive and leave consistently on a daily bases also create an intense amount of pollution in the air due to the engine of the trucks. Since trucks are transporting loads of different things in high quantities and weight, almost 90% of the trucks are running with diesel engines. Older trucks that had an older diesel engine produced much less carbon dioxide than kaoline-powered vehicles but in the long run, it produced more pollution that was associated with localized environmental trauma, for example, smog and soot. Most of these trucks that are arriving and leaving from these farms are running the older engines due to the fact that diesel engines can last over 400,000 miles if maintained properly. Such pollution can create respiratory or cardiovascular issues which been linked to lung and other cancers. Due to so many toxins entering into our air, the government passed laws to clean up new diesel engines but that didn’t stop all the pollution it still creates. The law did turn out into positive effects that were noticeable such as a 13 percent drop of ozone-causing smog and a 24 percent drop of soot levels. The solution to reducing emissions through diesel trucks is to fueling the trucks with biogas.

Biogas is an alternative fuel for diesel engines that can be created with cow manure as well. The biogas is a yield that renewable, sustainable and a source of green energy. Back in 2007, according to article “Scots turn dung to fuel” the Scottish were the first to turn cow poo into renewable energy for cars, “A Scottish firm is poised to become the first in Britain to turn cow dung into fuel for cars.” (McDonald, T) Colin Risbridger, who was the engineer and one of the founders of the firm, created a “digester” that ferments the manure. The manure is put into an 80,000 – liter tank which extracts the methane. This method is still used today and is a very effective method. Another farm that applies this method is again Fair Oak Farm. At Fair Oak Farms, their biofuels milk trucks replace about 12 million diesel-miles on highways every year. Think about how much emissions and smog we can eliminate if all farms start doing this rather than traditional diesel engines. This is a great way to become sustainable in the environment and eco-friendly. Some other pros of this method are that it produces around 90% less carbon dioxide than on fossil fuels and it’s much cheaper to obtain. In conclusion, agriculture manure is something that’s going to be the future.

The production of both processes, energy, and biofuel, depend on several important parameters as well as the process of anaerobic digestion. Without the anaerobic digestion process, none of this could have been possible. When creating sustainable energy with manure, there are such things as bad manure energy which typically leads to poor energy quality, in other words not lasting as long. To get the best quality manure, this typically comes from fresh cows, which was found to have the high cumulative methane yield at (215ml CH4/g VS). From article “Biogas production from different types of cow manure” it was said in section 5 that, “Based on the results of biogas production and manure constituents, it was found that the samples with higher lipid contents yield less biogas production.” It’s a crucial part to have a plan and having everything laid out before creating your own sustainable energy. This whole process is focused on one thing and that one thing is to increase our way of sustainability in the environment and with the topic I focused on, this can eliminate the carbon footprint from agriculture farms all over.

This benefits the word by reducing the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that being spread around and methane. Another popular use that was not mentioned with cow dung was using it as a fertilizer. Cow poop has a lot of beneficial bacteria which are beneficial to soil. This is excellent for growing medium sized garden plants. The cow manure would add organic matter to your soil and improve the moisture-holding capacity. This results in less use of water and improves aeration. Before adding cow manure to your soil, there are steps you need to take in order to prepare it for a fertilizer. Composting the cow manure is a main and most important step to take and to do that, you’re going to have to pile up the manure and consistency turn the pile. This will provide heat and air to the compost.

Composting has a bunch of benefits to the process like eliminating harmful gases such as ammonia and pathogens such as E. coli. If this process is done correctly, the cow manure will become a nutrient-rich fertilizer. This method of using cow manure is also a very sustainable and eco-friendly way to use our environments natural resources to its fullest. If a farmer is worried that they don’t have the necessary tools to create a biofuel and still want to be sustainable, they can always find a way to sell their manure for regular consumers to use on their small gardens at their homes. Again, this is a fantastic way to stay sustainable and make a profit from it. If we keep using traditional methods of farming, this can cause climate changes and more money for taxpayers due to air pollution. With more and more ongoing research on this topic, we can modify the animal’s diet to benefit both the quality of the animal and their manure.

More issues are going to rise at a faster rate than ever before if not handled correctly. Overall, the impact on agriculture in terms of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission make up about 80% of all emission from the land use and agriculture sector out of the five major sectors for greenhouse gases, according to Steinfield, H. Livestock is responsible for a great about of environmental damage. I believe in order for change to occur, we would need to establish a very strong commitment and let the public be informed more on the environmental risks we can be facing due to the greenhouse gases getting released. With more people on board with sustainability at our farms, I guarantee that we will see a significant improvement in our eco-system and reduce and reverse environmental damage.

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Air Pollution Why Cows Are Bad for the Air. (2022, Mar 12). Retrieved from

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