A beam of sunlight streams into your living room, illuminating a Milky Way of dust particles hanging in the air. Although the air looks thick, those visible dust particles are so big that they can’t reach the smallest branches of the respiratory tree in your lungs. It’s the dust we can’t see—smaller than 2.5 microns, called PM 2.5—that can cause allergies and other respiratory problems.
Inside livestock facilities, the dust particles are much more abundant than in a living room, and can cause pulmonary problems for anyone who breathes the air, including the animals. A recent research project on air quality characterizes the dust particles found in different livestock facilities. For the study, the air was sampled for three consecutive days in each of three types of animal production facilities—poultry, dairy, and swine.
“If you’re going to regulate air quality, first you have to measure it. And before you measure it, you have to characterize how to measure it and what’s in it,” says Richard Gates, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at University of Illinois and member of the research project team.
Gates says not all livestock facility dust is alike. “In order to manage or regulate the dust, we first have to understand its characteristics. Until we have that, we can’t make models that describe the emission from a building, how much of it drops out within 100 yards of a building, and how much of it travels much further from the facility.”
According to Gates, laying hen facilities are recognized as a very dusty environment; a dairy facility is a very open, airy environment with lots of fresh air; and a swine-finishing building, although not considered to be terribly dusty, is actually the worst overall in dust level, especially at the most dangerous particulate matter (PM) level.
Image via University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences