Backyard hens are a great source of eggs, but some are concerned about where all the chicken waste goes.
As county leaders press forward with an urban agriculture initiative that would, among other things, allow backyard hens in Arlington, many residents say they are concerned about germs and disease. Specifically, residents wonder about what happens to all that chicken waste if fowl are allowed back into residential neighborhoods.
Rules against keeping livestock in Arlington date back at least a half a century — a time when the county was transforming from an agricultural community along the Potomac to an urban environment. Now the pendulum may be swinging in the other direction. Tomorrow, members of an urban agriculture task force will hold their inaugural meeting to consider how the zoning change might work.
George Mason University biology professor David Luther says the main public health risk from chickens is water pollution: "Like all organisms, we defecate a fair bit, and it all has to go somewhere. Generally for anything except humans, it doesn't go through water treatment plants. If the quantity is high, it can be a real problem for the local watershed."
One potential solution under consideration is to require chicken waste be disposed of in an environmentally sustainable way, although critics point out that would require creating a system of enforcement — one that would consume money and staff time. The task force is expected to issue a recommendation next year.