New N.C. permit issued for industrial hog operations

Better testing required but community impacts overlooked

During the flooding following Hurricane Florence, rows of white roofs are the only evidence of this North Carolina industrial hog operation and its large lagoons storing untreated hog waste. (© Waterkeeper Alliance)

Today, in the state that ranks second nationally in hog production, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issued a general permit to cover approximately 2,300 industrial hog operations that raise nearly 10 million hogs in eastern North Carolina. Most of these operations store hog feces and urine in primitive, unlined pits before spraying the untreated waste on nearby fields, called a lagoon and sprayfield system, exposing communities in eastern North Carolina to a number of health and environmental risks. 

“DEQ has taken a step in the right direction by making technical improvements to increase accountability and transparency for the hog industry in the permitting process,” said SELC Attorney Blakely Hildebrand. “But the general permit fails to adequately protect our air, waterways, and communities from hog industry pollution because the permit endorses the continued use of the primitive lagoon and sprayfield system. DEQ has failed to put in place measures that will protect communities of color who bear the disproportionate environmental and health burdens of this dirty industry. Moreover, the general permit does little to mitigate the risk of spills from industrial animal operations during major rain events, which are becoming increasingly intense and frequent.”

In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Florence in 2018, numerous lagoons at industrial hog farms across the state were overtopped by rising rivers, sending massive amounts of the untreated waste into floodwaters.

The general permit released by DEQ today requires the hog industry to do the following:

  • test groundwater for contamination for facilities in the 100-year floodplain; 
  • measure the risk of nutrient pollution from facilities; and
  • turn over records that tell the public where, when, and how much hog waste is generated on-site.

Notably, it fails to incorporate use of an environmental justice tool, which would identify the communities suffering the most from the cumulative impacts from industrial animal operations. SELC will be continuing to urge the state to include these residents in their permit considerations.

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