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By Alex DeMetrick

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)– Many think of smoke stacks and tail pipes when it comes to pollution, but on the Eastern Shore, the concern is over ammonia levels produced by chicken waste.

Chicken farming has long been a staple in Maryland agriculture and it’s changing.

What were once common operations that housed flocks of 25,000 chickens, are now being replaced with mega-chicken houses.

“Did it for 23 years, but I only had two houses, and that’s not even considered a chicken farm anymore,” Eastern Shore farmer Carol Morison said. “We’re seeing huge, huge 49,000 capacity houses per flock of chickens, and we’re seeing 10, 12, 20, sometimes three houses built on one place.”

The houses are producing a lot more waste, which has some worried that much more ammonia is being injected into the air, which threatens human health.

“We have the highest rate of asthma, respiratory diseases in the entire state of Maryland, and one in four of our youth in middle school have asthma,” Eastern Shore resident Monica Brooks said.

Some shore residents rallied at the State House for a bill called the “Community Healthy Air Act.”

When it comes to poultry farms, the issue is different than most. Chicken waste that runs off farm fields is a source of water pollution and presents the threat of an avian flu outbreak, which could bring an economic loss.

“How can you prove, specifically say this is going on? Well, let’s get some air monitoring on the shore. And then we can prove what we already know,” Brooks said.

Although, at this point, without scientific data, the air quality is unknown.

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