A temperature inversion is keeping the smoke and odor from the Bar S feedlot’s burning horse manure far too close for comfort, but it’s not being ignored by officials.
Bar S representatives met with Toole County Commissioners Ben Ober and Allan Underdal, officials from Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Shelby Volunteer Fire Department’s Chief, Dan Whitted, and Toole County Sanitarian, Karen Salo, on Thursday, Dec. 9, to address the problem.
“They know they have to put the fire out as soon as possible, and that they’ll have to dispose of the manure,” stated Moriah Peck, of the DEQ’s Enforcement Division.
In a letter dated Dec. 9 from DEQ Environmental Enforcement Specialist Autumn to Bar S, the DEQ cited violations of Montana’s Open Burning Rules after the fire was left unchecked by Bar S.
“Under the Open Burning Rules, [Bar S] was to immediately extinguish the fire and call to confirm it was out,” stated Bahr. “As of Monday, Dec. 13, I’ve not heard from them. The fire started Dec. 3 and they haven’t touched it yet, and that’s pretty upsetting.”
The DEQ has received three formal complaints from Shelby residents about the smoke and the odor it’s producing, and Bahr confirmed that two people had been admitted to Marias Medical Center with additional health problems because of the smoke.
“The media coverage for this has helped tremendously,” said Barr. “Seeing it in the paper has gotten the word out to people about what’s going on, and Bar S can see that people aren’t happy about it.”
Controversy with Bar S, which holds horses to be shipped to Canada for slaughter and horse meat sales to Canada and France, is not new.
“Last July, they were in violation for not removing the manure, and we think this may be the same manure on fire now,” said Bahr. Some of the manure is thought to have been at the site, located one-and-a-half miles from Shelby, for over 20 years.
“We’ve also been working with Bar S since May of this year on water quality issues,” said Peck. Bar S is required to develop a waste management plan as part of their 2002 usage permit for a compliance schedule for runoff and waste control. When the DEQ didn’t hear back from them by January of 2004, they referred it to their department’s enforcement division.
There is progress, however. At Thursday’s meeting, it was revealed that Bar S has hired an engineer to deal with the water compliance issues of their permit.
Don Donahue, manager of Bar S, has indicated that he has been in contact with a company in Eastern Montana to bring in CO2 (carbon dioxide) tanker trucks and heavy equipment.
As of Monday, Dec. 13, Bar S had planned to inject the carbon dioxide into the manure to extinguish the fire Tuesday morning. It has not been determined where the manure will be taken.
“I got the impression that Bar S will address the issues,” said Peck.
“They’ll have to figure out what will work as they go along, and keep moving [the manure] out on a yearly basis,” said Underdal. “We told them we knew it will take a couple of weeks at best to get it under control. It isn’t something that can happen right away, but we want the fire put completely out and the manure removed as fast as possible.”
“They have a plan in effect, and it’s being handled aggressively,” said Whitted. “The Bar S is cooperating and doing the best they can.”
Although it smells foul, the health risks are not higher because of the burning manure, as opposed to a forest fire.
“It’s more of a nuisance than a disease concern,” said the state epidemiologist, Dr. Todd Damrow. “There are no known communicable agents associated with burning manure.”
For those with lung or chronic diseases, the best advice remains to stay indoors, and breathe through your nose, rather than your mouth, when outdoors.
Complaints can be filed by calling the DEQ’s Enforcement Division at (406) 444-0379, or online at www.deq.state.mt.us, then clicking on “Report Pollution.”