Chicken slaughterhouse poses threat to water quality in rural North Carolina

This map illustrates the drinking water sources and numerous waterways affected by wastewater disposal plans at a chicken processing plant in southeastern North Carolina. (© Shannon Groff/SELC)

A public hearing tomorrow will allow citizens to voice their concerns over the latest developments around a proposed chicken processing plant in Robeson County, North Carolina. The hearing will be held at the R.E. Hooks Community Building, 176 N. Third St., in St. Pauls at 7:00 p.m.

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) released a draft permit that would, if issued, allow Sanderson Farms to spray processed wastewater from the slaughterhouse onto fields near its site. The facility, west of the town of St. Pauls, will process 1.25 million chickens per week.

At the slaughterhouse, instead of dumping waste directly into surface waters, which would require stricter permit limitations to protect water quality, Sanderson Farms has applied to DENR for a permit to spray partially treated wastewater onto open fields close to the plant. Land application of wastewater is minimally regulated and the permits required do not include standards that adequately protect surface waters. For instance, the draft permit released by DENR only imposes limits on the amount of wastewater applied to spray fields; it does not include limits on the concentration of pollutants in the wastewater. Moreover, the draft permit fails to require surface water monitoring. 

Making matters worse, the lax requirements included in these permits are often unenforced by DENR. Wastewater is often applied above recommended rates, which leads to pollutants seeping into ground water and eventually migrating into nearby streams. Downstream from this is site the Lumber River, which serves as a drinking water source for tens of thousands of area residents.

Examination of Sanderson Farms’ history shows the company has repeatedly failed to treat its slaughterhouse wastewater in other states to the level required to protect receiving waters and has repeatedly violated water quality permits at the majority of its facilities.

Additionally, DENR failed to consider the cumulative effects of the draft permit, the chicken farms associated with the plant, and similar processing plants nearby. To meet the company’s production goals, the company will contract with 100 chicken farms to grow birds for slaughter at the facility. These chicken farms produce millions of tons of chicken waste each year and are largely unregulated, posing an additional threat to nearby waterways. SELC and our partner groups will be on hand at the public hearing to make the case for re-evaluating the permit. 

Area residents concerned about the permit and the slaughterhouse operations recently shared their worries in the local papers. You can click on the links to read their thoughts in the Wilmington Star, New Bern Sun Journal and the Fayetteville Observer.

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