April 8, 2019

Air pollution from corn production might contribute to thousands of deaths each year

Source:, April 4, 2019
By: Alex Schwartz

The effects of agricultural practices on human health shouldn’t be overlooked.

Lend your “ears” to this: A new study published this week in Nature found that America’s corn belt could contribute to thousands of air pollution deaths a year.

Scientists at the University of Minnesota attributed around 4,300 premature American deaths annually to air pollution resulting from corn production. To do so, they modeled the emission impacts of producing corn and compared them to local pollution-related deaths—and they found a striking relationship.

“You think air quality and you think coal plants, and you think dirty diesel trucks,” says Jason Hill, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota and the study’s lead author. “Certainly both of those are major contributors to reduced air quality, but corn production? Yes, that too.”

Corn is the most widely produced feed grain in the U.S., taking up over 90 million acres of farmland mainly located in the Midwest and Great Plains. Farmers grew over 14 billion bushels of it last year, most of which wasn’t even directly consumed by humans. Each year, around 90 percent goes to feeding livestock and producing ethanol. America is also the world’s largest exporter of corn and heavily subsidizes its production to keep prices low.…

November 15, 2017

Watch for “Absolute Pollution” Clause

Source:, November 15, 2017
By: Tiffany Dowell Lashment

When a dairy finds itself a defendant in a lawsuit alleging groundwater contamination due to manure storage policies and application practices, likely one of the first calls made is to their insurance company. One dairy in Washington did just that, only to be told their insurer was denying coverage and indemnification because the claims against the dairy were excluded from coverage due to an “absolute pollution clause.”

In 2013, two non-profit environmental groups filed suit against a number of dairies in Washington around the handling of manure contaminated groundwater. Allegations concluded holding ponds resulted in seepage of manure into the underground aquifer, and the amount of manure applied to fields as fertilizer was excessive, causing seepage into the ground. Plaintiffs brought claims against the dairies under several federal regulations. Eventually, the parties settled the case.…

August 30, 2017

Lead-Based Paint Is a “Pollutant” within CGL Pollution Exclusion

Source:, August 2017
By: Kent Holland

Where lead-based paint was ingested by a tenant’s child, the tenant sued her landlord for injuries allegedly sustained by the child. The landlord tendered the claim to its commercial general liability (CGL) insurer who, instead of defending the case, filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that the pollution exclusion of the CGL policy barred coverage for the alleged injuries. The Owner held that, although not specifically listed in the pollution definition as a “pollutant,” lead-based paint is, in fact, a “pollutant” within the meaning of the policy. The policy’s pollution exclusion was, therefore, applicable, and the insurer had no duty to defend and indemnify the landlord. See Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Smith, 298 Ga. 716, 784 S.E.2d 422 (2016).

The terms of the CGL policy required the insurer “to pay those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’” … “only if: (1) the ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ is caused by an ‘occurrence’ that takes place ….” An occurrence is defined as “an accident.” Coverage was subject to exclusions, including the pollution exclusion, which provided that the insurance does not apply to “(1) ‘[b]odily injury’ or ‘property damage’ arising out of the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape of ‘pollutants’: (a) [a]t or from any premises, site or location which is or was at any time owned or occupied by, or rented or loaned to, any insured.”…

August 14, 2015

Insurers not liable in Minnesota farm pollution case

Source:, August 14, 2015
By: Eric Freedman

Neighbors of a now-defunct dairy operation in northwestern Minnesota have failed for a second time to hold the farm’s insurers responsible for pollution-related problems from manure lagoons on the property.

A unanimous state Court of Appeals panel ruled that insurance policies for the former farm near Thief River Falls contained a valid and enforceable absolute exclusion for pollution-related claims.

A lawyer for the neighbors, Charles Speer of Kansas City, Missouri, said his clients will evaluate the decision “to see if there is any merit to go to the state Supreme Court.”

Speer also said, “In one sense, our clients are very pleased the dairy is gone but disappointed there will be no compensation.”

The suit described Excel Dairy a CAFO, or confined animal feeding operation, and said it had as many as 1,500 dairy cows at a time.  The neighbors’ problems began after investors operating as the South Dakota-based Dairy Dozen-Thief River Falls LLP bought Excel Dairy in 2005 and expanded the operation in 2007 by building another barn and two additional manure basins, the court said.

“Unfortunately, the expansion did not go well, and Excel’s neighbors complained of illnesses related to Excel’s hydrogen-sulfide emissions,” according to the decision written by Judge Peter Reyes Jr.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, .U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Minnesota Health Department took civil and administrative action against the company, including revocation of its state permit, and the Marshall County attorney filed criminal misdemeanor charges.…

February 18, 2015

Pig Farms heighten concerns over water/air quality

Read here about concerns over water and air quality resulting from pig farms.…

January 16, 2015

Wisconsin manure insurance case offers important lessons for livestock farmers

Source:, January 15, 2015
By: Texas Agriculture Law Blog

Late last year, a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision regarding manure gained the attention of agricultural law attorneys across the country, according to Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, assistant professor and Extension specialist specializing in agricultural law with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension. In that case, Wilson Mutual Insurance Co. v. Falk, (Cases No. 2013AP691 & 2013AP776), the Court found a Wisconsin dairy farmer who allegedly caused groundwater contamination by spreading manure on his fields was not covered by a farm liability insurance policy.

Although only binding law in Wisconsin, the case raises an important issue that all farmers and ranchers need to be aware of and carefully evaluate the potential applicability to their operation, Dowell Lashmet wrote on the Texas Agriculture Law Blog.

The Falks and their agronomist had developed a nutrient management plan to govern their use of manure as fertilizer. The plan was approved by the the county conservation office. Despite this plan, allegations arose that the farmers had contaminated the underground aquifer and several neighboring wells. Facing lawsuits, the Falks turned to their insurance company, Wilson Mutual Insurance Co., with whom they had a farm liability policy providing coverage for property damage or bodily injury. The policy, however, contained a “pollution exclusion” clause, stating that coverage was excluded for damages resulting from the “actual, alleged, or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release, or escape of pollutants into or upon land, water or air.” The exclusion defined “pollutant” as a “solid, liquid, or gaseous irritant or contaminant, including waste.”…

January 5, 2015

State Supreme Court Overturns Manure Pollution Ruling

Source:, January 5, 2015

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has reversed an appeals court ruling that earlier determined that a Washington County farm couple was not responsible for compensating their neighbors out of pocket for well contamination expenses caused by manure run-off.

According to court records, the Department of Natural Resources notified Robert and Jane Falk in 2011 that manure spread on their fields had contaminated the well water of neighboring residents . The Falks then filed a claim with Wilson Mutual Insurance to compensate the neighbors, but the insurance company said its policy excluded coverage for damage caused by pollutants, such as animal waste.

When the issue went to court, Washington County Circuit Judge Todd Martens agreed that the definition of pollutant meant Wilson Mutual was not obligated to pay the claim. The case was then presented to the 2nd District Court of Appeals, which reversed the ruling in late 2013. That court stated that farmers consider manure as a nutrient for their fields, not a pollutant. Especially since the Falks had spread their farm’s manure in accordance with a plan approved by Washington County Land and Water Conservation Division.

Meanwhile, last week’s Supreme Court decision means the insurance company is no longer obligated to pay the claims because justices consider manure a pollutant once it leaves the field and enters the aquifer.

“We hold that the pollution exclusion clause in the farm insurance policy issued to the Falk’s unambiguously excludes coverage for well contamination caused by the seepage of cow manure,” wrote Justice Michael Gableman in last week’s opinion. “While when safely and beneficially applied, manure may be universally present, desirable, and generally harmless substance, this ignores the occurrence for which the Falks seek coverage. A reasonable insured would not view manure as universally present and generally harmless when present in a well.”

Despite the ruling, the justices did note that fine print found in the insurance contract’s incidental coverages section means the insurance company needs to pay up to $500 for each well that has been contaminated by the manure, with the Falks being responsible for the rest of the monetary damages.…

April 5, 2013

Time to Rethink Rice?

Source: The Environmental Magazine, March 1, 2013
By: Maggie Wolf Peterson

With Arsenic Concerns, Rice Loses Its Celebrated Status

© Designpics

Rice is known by nutritionists as a “first food.” Easily digested and bland, it is often the first solid food a baby receives. Prior to that, babies may be exposed to rice starch and brown rice syrup in infant formulas, which use the grain as an ingredient digestible by infants with lactose or gluten intolerance.

Rice is also first in the world in other ways. The subject of myth, it is part of the creation story of Burma, in which humankind sprang from the center of the earth with grains of rice in hand, ready to begin cultivation. Folklore on the island of Bali tells us that rice was a gift from the gods. Chinese mythology says that the few grains of rice that remained after a mythic flood provided the only sustenance that could grow in watery fields. In the etymology of some Asian languages, the word for rice is the same as the word for food.

Rice is the grain eaten by more people worldwide than any other. It is farmed on every continent. Some cultures serve rice three times a day. In the United States, it is central to the agriculture of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and California.

It also contains arsenic. Some consumer groups are urging the U.S. government to set standards through the Food and Drug Administration for acceptable levels of arsenic in food. A naturally occurring element, arsenic is found in soil, air and water, and there are government maximums for acceptable trace levels in drinking water. But there is currently no U.S. standard for arsenic in food.

“We don’t know the effect of eating the amount of arsenic that happens to be in rice products for kids,” says Dr. Jerome Paulson, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health.…

June 16, 2011

Tannery Sludge Causes Tumors, Lawsuit Says

Read here about a Missouri lawsuit that claims tannery sludge causes tumors.…

June 13, 2011

State Settles Well Contamination Lawsuit in Dodge County

Source:, July 19, 2006

Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager announced today that her office has both filed and settled an environmental lawsuit in Dodge County Circuit Court against Nehls Brothers Farms, Ltd. Under the settlement, Nehls Brothers agrees to the following:

  • Nehls Brothers will pay over $42,000 to reimburse three near-by well owners for their costs in replacing their wells contaminated by runoff from Nehls Brothers’ manure-spreading operations.
  • Nehls Brothers will pay forfeitures and accompanying surcharges and costs totaling $150,000. But Nehls Brothers may reduce this $150,000 to $50,000 if it purchases and uses a disk to integrate its manure spreading into the soil and if it constructs a second manure lagoon to store manure from its dairy operations—neither of which is specifically required by existing regulations. These two supplemental environmental projects cost Nehls Brothers over $400,000.

Nehls Brothers has large dairy farm operations at four sites near Juneau in Dodge County. According to the complaint filed in the case, Nehls Brothers’ violations included the following:

  • spreading manure on frozen ground too close to privately owned wells;
  • spreading manure on fields so that it ran off and “ponded”;
  • spreading manure so that it contaminated water in neighboring wells;
  • allowing leachate originating at a feed-storage unit to run off into a creek;
  • failing to file reports and other submittals as required with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; and
  • spreading manure within less than 200 feet of a stream without injecting or incorporating it into the soil.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources investigated this case and referred it to the Wisconsin Department of Justice asking that an environmental enforcement case be brought in Dodge County Circuit Court. Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Philip Peterson represented the state. Dodge County Circuit Court Judge Bissonnette approved the settlement.…