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Manure Warnings Not Sounded

February 28, 1996
By: Lara Hearnburg
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - After manure spills into a river, it's possible that the people who are being directly affected by the spill are the last to know about it.

Farm owner Mark Belwood, of Pettis County Missouri, found out by accident about a spill that affected him. Because he works with the Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring Program, he happened to be at DNR for other reasons, and overheard people talking about a manure spill from a hog farm in his area.

Belwood said he was surprised when he found out that not only was the spill in his area, it was in a creek that runs through his farm.

"Not only was it in a creek that I monitor, but the intersection of Hess and Heaths Creeks is on our farm. We do have a pasture with cattle that could've been drinking out of that stream," he said.

Belwood said he worries that next time he might not be in the right place at the right time.

"I think when spills occur, the public should be made aware as soon as they ascertain that there was definitely a spill."

The spill that affected his land occurred on Jan. 26, but Belwood said that the first the first time he saw any public information about the spill was in a Feb. 1. Sedalia newspaper.

"For one thing," Belwood said,"In the article on Feb. 1, they warned you not to have your cattle drinking out of that stream."

Belwood complained that if his cattle had been drinking out of that stream, it would have been important for him to have known about the spill as soon as possible.

"The appropriate thing to do would've been to immediately notify local newspapers and radio stations and that way the people who did have livestock in the area could've taken whatever action that they deemed appropriate."

David Shorr, Director of the Natural Resources Department said state law requires that DNR be notified of a waste spill, but that the department only notifies the public if there is a threat to public health.

"I don't think that there is a mandatory requirement for us to notify anyone," Shorr said. "We have a large number of spills annually that may or may not be reported to the public. Just because it's a spill doesn't mean it warrants public notification. If Missouri wishes to change that perspective the General Assembly has the right to do so."

The problem of public notification after a waste spill was discussed by the House Agriculture committee during the debate over the six proposals directed at regulating farming.

A substitute approved by the committee would require operators to notify adjoining property owners after a waste spill.

But this proposal would only apply to large farms, those with at least 7,000 animals. In other words, when a spill is from a small farm, such as the spill that affected Belwood's property, there would be nothing to prevent another delay in neighbors finding out that a water source on their property could be contaminated.

Rhonda Perry, the Program Director for Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said that she is concerned about people finding out about waste spills as soon as possible, and that spills from small farms can cause as many problems as spills from large farms.

"We would most definitely be in favor of something that mandated some kind of public notification of a spill," she said.

"It was a concerning to our members who live in the area (of the Pettis County spill) that the press release was a little slow. It is possible that it could've been weather related, but it created a lot of questions that were left unanswered."