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What’s In Your Neighbor’s Manure?

January 18, 2012

ENOSBURG, VT - An Enosburg, VT, woman is sick, suffering from formaldehyde poisoning, and she says the source is the neighboring farm.
Amy Cochran of Enosburg is a retired science teacher and former farmer herself. Her neighbor has a large farm with approximately 1,200 cattle. According to Cochran, the neighbor uses formaldehyde regularly on the farm.
Formaldehyde is used by many farmers throughout the state to treat hairy wart syndrome, an infection cows get on their hooves.
The Vermont Department of Labor, Department of Health, and Agency of Agriculture are all now working together to get information to farmers on the safe use of formaldehyde and good alternatives, said Stephen Monahan, the director of the Department of Labor (DOL).
The DOL is conducting a separate investigation into a Vermont farm due to an employee referral of formaldehyde exposure. Monahan said he could not comment further on the investigation other than that, by law, it must be completed within six months.
Monahan confirmed that there are serious health side effects from exposure to formaldehyde liquids or vapors.
Cochran said she became ill last April, right around the time her neighbor began spreading manure on the fields. At first, Cochran did not know what was wrong and neither did the doctors. Some thought she might have lupus or even a brain tumor. Cochran ended up at Boston hospital and underwent expensive tests to learn that she had formaldehyde poisoning.
Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, according to the Federal Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Cochran went up to the farm and took many samples of the manure and had it tested. She said the levels were ten times higher than the OSHA acceptable limit.
Cochran also discovered the levels of formaldehyde in her home were ten times higher that normal.
Cochran said she knows of at least 30 other people in the area suffering symptoms similar to hers.
Diane Bothfeld, the Deputy Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, said that air testing will take place this spring in Enosburg. When the agency learned of concerns regarding formaldehyde, it was too late to test the air last year, she said.
The issue is also currently beginning discussed in the Vermont Legislature
There are no regulations regarding the use of formaldehyde on farms. Other products, such copper sulfate and zinc oxide, are available alternatives, but Bothfeld hears from farmers that the formaldehyde is most effective for the cows.
Bothfeld wants people to know that formaldehyde is also naturally occurring in rotting material such as wood and manure.
When farmers purchase formaldehyde, they receive a material safety data sheet stating that they should supply protective equipment such has gloves, safety goggles, and respirators to those handling the chemical. Formaldehyde is supposed to be diluted to an eight percent solution with water before using it.
The formaldehyde solution is discarded in the manure pits after use, and most farmers spread the manure on their fields.
How much the formaldehyde is diluted the manure pits, and whether it ends up in the air and causes problems, is not yet known.
Cochran said her doctors told her to move to a different location, but Cochran loves her home and doesn’t know what she is going to do. She is going to leave when the spreading season begins on April 15.
After retiring from teaching, Cochran became a broccoli farmer. She has had to give up the work due to her symptoms. She also worked for the Town of Enosburg, but has had to give up that job as well.
Cochran is speaking with an attorney and plans to testify to the Legislative Agriculture Committee. Cochran has also been in touch with the Centers for Disease Control to voice her concerns.

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