Hurricane Dorian Threatens To Spread Millions of Tons of Manure Again Throughout North Carolina’s Coastal Plain
WASHINGTON – As Hurricane Dorian bears down on North Carolina, the storm’s flood waters threaten once again to spread millions of tons of animal waste from factory farms throughout the state’s eastern coastal plain.
“The most important thing right now is that people stay safe,” said Soren Rundquist, director of spatial analysis for the Environmental Working Group, which studies the growth, expansion and pollution of factory farms in North Carolina and other states. “But we’re also watching the thousands of North Carolina factory farms that sit directly in Dorian’s projected path. The heavy rainfall could flood poorly located factory farms, spreading untold tons of hog, chicken and turkey waste along the coastal plain.”
EWG and the Waterkeeper Alliance have estimated that each year, the state’s 4,700 poultry farms create five million tons of dry waste, and its 2,100 swine operations generate enough liquified waste to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Almost exactly a year ago, Hurricane Florence dumped over 30 inches of rain in parts of the state with more than 1,500 swine and poultry concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and the thousands of open-air manure cesspools and piles they maintain.
Florence caused at least 132 swine manure lagoons to flood or breach, or to come dangerously close. It is possible that additional hog waste pits failed or were compromised, since the state relies on farm operators to report such incidents themselves.
At least 35 poultry operations flooded during or after Florence, according to the investigation by EWG and Waterkeepers. The waste is generally stored in giant piles, which means it easily washes off into the many nearby creeks and rivers. The state doesn’t regulate waste from most poultry CAFOs, so it doesn’t track flooding incidents involving these operations.
In 2016, Hurricane Matthew caused widespread flooding in North Carolina’s CAFOs. Over 140 industrial-scale swine and poultry barns were inundated, as were more than a dozen giant swine waste pits and thousands of acres of manure-saturated fields.
Farm animal manure contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria and pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. Pollution from the chemicals in livestock waste also triggers toxic algae blooms, like the one in North Carolina that recently killed three dogs, and contaminates rivers, lakes and private wells used for tap water.
After Florence, at least 73 tap water systems serving over a half-million people issued advisories for residents to boil water that may have been contaminated by floodwaters. State data suggest that thousands of North Carolinian wells could have been tainted by storm runoff. The state also issued advisories for people to avoid swimming in coastal waters, in some places for an entire month.
North Carolina is especially ill equipped to deal with the increasing threats to human and environmental health posed by hurricanes’ impacts on animal agriculture, because of the legislature’s continued refusal to regulate dry poultry waste.
The legislature has also cut funding to the state water quality office, and in 2012, passed a law forbidding consideration of climate change when public policy is crafted. The person in charge of the state agency responsible for inspecting CAFOs has testified in court that it is woefully underfunded and understaffed.
“The threat posed by severe storms to North Carolina’s enormous waste problem could have been addressed many years ago,” Rundquist said. “Instead, it’s one more thing North Carolinians still have to worry about.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more.