The project measures gases and dust released by agricultural operations.

Purdue University has officially begun the largest study ever to measure levels of various gases and airborne particles emitted from U.S. farming operations.

The 30-month, $14.6-million research project will measure hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter and ammonia from 20 sites in eight states. Those sites include nine hog farms, three operations that raise egg-laying birds, one broiler ranch and seven dairy farms.

“This study will give us a wealth of much-needed scientific information about livestock-generated air pollution,” says Al Heber, project leader and professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue. “There has never been an agricultural air quality study this comprehensive or long-term, he notes.”

“The National Air Emission Monitoring Study,” conducted under the advisement of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will record two years of data at concentrated animal feeding operations. Continuous and grab samples will be collected from barns and manure storage and treatment systems.

Specialized sensors, including lasers and reflectors, will measurelevels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia released from open area sources, according to Rich Grant, open source project manager and professor o f agronomy at Purdue.

The data collected will establish infrastructure that should lead researchers to test different abatement strategies to improve air quality downwind.

“For example, if we put hogs on certain modified diets, we can significantly reduce ammonia emissions,” Heber says. “These experiments are needed to develop real solutions in the field.”

Purdue will collaborate with 11 researchers from seven universities: University of California-Davis, Cornell University, Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University's Agricultural Experiment Station and Washington State University-Pullman.

The Agricultural Air Research Council, a non-profit group that supports livestock industry groups, funded the study, which will be overseen by EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.