Lifestock farms affect health of local residents

Researchers of Utrecht University, RIVM, Wageningen UR and NIVEL investigated whether living near livestock farms can affect the health of local residents. The study revealed a number of positive and a number of negative effects of living in the proximity of livestock farms. Therefore, it is not possible to provide a clear-cut answer.

People who live around livestock farms were found to have less asthma and allergies than people who live farther away. Among those living close to livestock farms the study found there were fewer people with COPD, a chronic lung disease. On the other hand, people who did have COPD often had more frequent and/or more serious complications of the disease.

Reduced lung function
In addition, a link was found between living near livestock farms and a reduced lung function. This is probably due to substances originating from livestock farms. Living nearby many livestock farms is not the only cause of a reduced lung function. Throughout the studied area it was found that a reduced lung function occurred at times when there was a high concentration of ammonia (a substance originating from manure) in the air. These effects are comparable with the harmful health effects caused by city traffic.

Higher risk of pneumonia
The researchers found that there were more instances of pneumonia in the studied area than in the rest of the country, although the difference has decreased since the Q fever epidemic of 2007-2010. A link was found between poultry farms within one kilometre of a home and a slightly higher risk of pneumonia. It is unclear whether the extra instances of pneumonia in the studied area are caused by specific pathogens that originate from animals (zoonotic agents), or by people becoming more susceptible to pneumonia through exposure to substances emitted by livestock farms, such as particulate matter, endotoxins (elements of microorganisms) and ammonia.

More MRSA carriers
The study further examined whether certain zoonotic agents occur more frequently in the vicinity of livestock farms than in the rest of the country. This was not the case as regards the hepatitis E virus, the Clostridium difficile bacterium and ESBL producing bacteria. However, people appear to be the carrier of the livestock-related MRSA bacterium slightly more often. It remains unclear whether this increase is due to emissions caused by livestock farms.

These are the main conclusions from research carried out by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Utrecht University (IRAS), Wageningen UR and the Netherlands institute for health services research (NIVEL) into livestock farming and the health of local residents. The study was conducted in the eastern part of North Brabant province and in the north of Limburg province. Some results might apply only to the studied area. This is because the findings are influenced by local features, such as air pollution from surrounding industrial areas.

This research is closely related to Utrecht University’s strategic research theme Life Sciences, within the subtheme Public Health.