Wellesley Professor Finds Pollution from Livestock Farming
Affects Infant Health

Oct. 9, 2008

Arlie Corday,

Stacy SneeringerWELLESLEY, Mass. – A new study in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics explores the effects of pollution from livestock facilities on infant health and finds that production is associated with an increase in infant mortality.

“The causal mechanism relating poor infant health to livestock production appears to be air pollution,” said the study’s author, Stacy Sneeringer, at right, an assistant professor of economics at Wellesley College.

Sneeringer studied livestock operations from the past two decades to identify the relationship between industry location and infant health. As livestock production has become more concentrated in larger farms, production has become more concentrated in certain areas.

“A great deal of attention has been focused on the pollution from industrial livestock production, but few studies have examined whether this pollution has measurable public health consequences,” Sneeringer said. “This study provides evidence that large-scale livestock production hurts public health by examining how infant health outcomes change when livestock production moves into or out of the area.”

Sneeringer’s study took into account a host of other variables including demographic characteristics of the mother, economic characteristics of the area, other industries, land use, climate, housing characteristics and environmental characteristics.

Previous studies have found that animal production can result in high concentrations of potentially harmful byproducts. Effluent from livestock farms can contaminate the groundwater and air. Certain gases associated with livestock farming have been found to be toxic and to contribute to overall air pollution levels. Livestock farming has also been associated with air-borne particulate matter.

Sneeringer found a statistically strong positive relationship between livestock farming and infant mortality — a 100 percent increase in livestock production in a county being associated with a 7.4 percent increase in infant mortality. Most of this effect occurs within the first 28 days of life.

Sneeringer interprets her results as reflecting damage to the fetus, as seen by higher rates of neonatal infant mortality. In a plea for more accurate data collection, Sneeringer observes that "careful monitoring of groundwater and air pollutants near livestock farms will be necessary to form an accurate picture of their effect on public health."

Sneeringer received a B.A. with university honors from Wesleyan University in 1997. She completed her graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2005, where she received an M.A. in demography, an M.A. in economics, and a Ph.D. in economics. She has been a member of the Wellesley faculty since 2005.

Her research focuses on health and environment. She studies the effect of pollution on infant health in the U.S., health effects of hospital access and effects of environmental legislation on firm size. For more, see an article on esciencenews.com or see the American Journal of Agricultural Economics at http://purl.umn.edu/43892.

Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries.