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Hydrogen sulfide concentrations at three middle schools near industrial livestock facilities


Safe school environments are essential for healthy development, yet some schools are near large-scale livestock facilities that emit air pollution. Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from decomposing manure is an indicator of livestock-related air pollution. We measured outdoor concentrations of H2S at three public middle schools near livestock facilities in North Carolina. We used circular graphs to relate H2S detection and wind direction to geospatial distributions of nearby livestock barns. We also used logistic and linear regression to model H2S in relation to upwind, distance-weighted livestock barn area. Circular graphs suggested an association between upwind livestock barns and H2S detection. The log-odds of H2S detection per 1000 m2 increased with upwind weighted swine barn area (School A: β-coefficient (β)=0.43, SE=0.06; School B: β=0.64, SE=0.24) and upwind weighted poultry barn area (School A: β=0.05, SE=0.01), with stronger associations during periods of atmospheric stability than atmospheric instability (School A stable: β=0.69, SE=0.11; School A unstable: β=0.32, SE=0.09). H2S concentration also increased linearly with upwind swine barn area, with greater increases during stable atmospheric conditions (stable: β=0.16 parts per billion (p.p.b.), SE=0.01; unstable: β=0.05 p.p.b., SE=0.01). Off-site migration of pollutants from industrial livestock operations can decrease air quality at nearby schools.

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David Leith, Maryanne Boundy, and Karin Yeatts helped to design the study and contributed to field work. William H Frederick, Lenon Hickman, Patricia Mason, Revenda Ross, Bryce Koukopoulos, Eileen Gregory, Steve Hutton, and Christopher Heaney provided essential study support during data collection. Sean Fitzsimmons, Ambient Air Monitoring Group, Air Quality Bureau, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources loaned us the Thermo H2S monitor used in this study. Brian Eder classified our meteorological data into atmospheric stability classes and provided a preliminary review of our manuscript. Nathaniel MacHardy developed the initial program in R for the circular plots. David Leith and Maryanne Boundy also reviewed the manuscript. Funding support for this research was provided by The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Training Grant T32ES007018. The funding sources had no involvement in any phase of research or the preparation for publication.

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Correspondence to Virginia T Guidry.

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Competing interests

SW and JJ provided a report in a civil rights complaint regarding re-permitting of industrial hog operations in NC. SW provided a declaration for plaintiffs in federal suits regarding community exposures to industrial hog operation air pollution. Neither received nor expects any financial compensation for these activities. The other authors declare no conflict of interest.

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Guidry, V., Kinlaw, A., Johnston, J. et al. Hydrogen sulfide concentrations at three middle schools near industrial livestock facilities. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 27, 167–174 (2017).

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  • air pollution
  • animal feeding operations
  • children’s health
  • hydrogen sulfide
  • livestock

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