Texas Panhandle community chokes on fecal dust from feedlots

Cattle outnumber people 40 to one in Deaf Smith County in the Texas Panhandle, giving the county seat of Hereford its title as the “beef capital of the world.” But the area is also a hotspot of citizen complaints about manure dust storms created when fierce winds hit feedlots housing tens of thousands of animals, according to FERN’s latest story, written by Chris Collins and produced in collaboration with The Texas Observer and Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

“Some summer days, especially during droughts, the particles — which scientists call “fecal dust” — form dense plumes that blot out the sun. When the wind is high, a wall of dust churns through the town of 15,000, coating homes and businesses and limiting visibility on U.S. Highway 60 so severely that motorists must switch on their headlights well before sunset,” writes Collins.

It also documents how the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) received at least 100 complaints about the dust over a decade from 2008-2017, according to a public records request, but did little to stop it. The agency only performs perfunctory investigations and from “2014 to November 2019, TCEQ took no enforcement action against large beef feedlots in the Panhandle. The agency levied no fines and issued no warnings, its own records show,” the report says.

“These are all well-known, well-understood pollutants,” Dr. Anne Epstein, a physician who previously chaired the Lubbock Board of Health, is quoted as saying in the article. “The health effects combine to give you shortened life expectancy, and that’s pretty dramatic.”

You can read the full piece at FERN or at the Observer site.