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Mental Health Impacts of Living Near a Factory Farm

December 9, 2021

When talking about the issue of factory farming, it is most common to first think about the treatment of animals and maybe even the environmental impact of industrialized farming. However, we do not often consider the impact factory farming has on individual people. From the treatment of workers to the impacts on neighborhoods surrounding factory sites, factory farming has proven to be a human rights issue.

Factory farms usually choose to locate wherever the costs of labor and land are most inexpensive. Due to systemic barriers and tactics such as redlining, most people that live in these areas are low-income and/or people of color. By living near the factories, they become exposed to all of the pollution and waste produced by the industrial farms. These farms deal with an extremely high quantity of animals at a time which results in massive amounts of waste, usually in the form of manure. This waste then causes extreme air and water pollution which has severe impacts on the health and welfare of residents in these communities. Water and air pollution can cause countless health issues such as brain and vision damage, heart problems, and breathing problems. Living near a factory not only takes a severe toll on these residents’ physical health but also their mental health. 

Living in a community where you have to function in dangerous living conditions and watch your friends, family, and neighbors battle illness can be very damaging to a person's mental health and overall well-being. In fact, living near any industrial activity can cause extreme stress. According to the National Center for Biotechnology, these sites should be considered neighborhood-level chronic stressors1. Living near industrial sites, such as factory farms, causes disorder within the community as their quality of life is reliant on the activity at these sites. The more waste and pollution produced, the worse the air and water quality is for the residents. This constant uncertainty and sense of helplessness can lead to severe psychological distress, which can impact all aspects of their lives. Adults living in these environments can struggle to function at their full capacity when it comes to daily activities such as work and taking care of their families. This is because living near factory farms has been shown to increase the risk of depression due to the brain’s reaction to the toxic chemicals produced by the animals’ waste2.

Living near a factory farm not only harms the adults' well-being. It can have lasting impacts on the children growing up in that environment as well. Children can suffer change in their neurological development as a result of the pollutants emitted by the factories. This can cause behavioral or cognitive changes3 that can have lasting effects on many aspects of their lives such as their performance in school and ability to form relationships. These are lasting effects that not only impact the childrens’ wellbeing and quality of life, but can also greatly impact their future.

Factory farming has contributed to the oppression of marginalized communities by putting them at high risk for countless illnesses both mental and physical. Overall, factory farming has become a systemic issue that fuels other systemic issues such as environmental racism.

Karissa Neudorf is a summer college intern at FFAC and studies Political Science and Environmental Studies at St. Olaf College.

  1. Downey, L., & Van Willigen, M. (2005). Environmental stressors: the mental health impacts of living near industrial activity. Journal of health and social behavior, 46(3), 289–305.
  2. Schiffman SS, Sattely Miller EA, Suggs MS, and Graham BG. 1995. The effect of environmental odors emanating from commercial swine operations on the mood of nearby residents. Brain Research Bulletin 37(4):369-75.
  3. Brockmeyer, S., & D'Angiulli, A. (2016). How air pollution alters brain development: the role of neuroinflammation. Translational neuroscience, 7(1), 24–30.