Press Release | December 5, 2017

Court Orders Evaluation of Murphy-Brown Hog Operations Identified as Threats to Groundwater

Conservation Groups Seek Cleanup of Murphy Brown’s Pollution in 3 Eastern NC River Basins

Chapel Hill, N.C. –Yesterday, a federal court agreed with conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and ordered that industrial hog producer Murphy-Brown comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up groundwater contamination at several hog facilities owned by the company in eastern North Carolina. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers in the case. 

Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc., the largest pork producer in the world, entered into the consent decree with Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers, Inc. (then Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation) to resolve legal challenges alleging violations of federal environmental laws by its industrial hog facilities. 

Under the agreement, an independent groundwater expert identified 11 facilities in the Neuse, Lumber, and Cape Fear River basins with demonstrated threats to groundwater or confirmed groundwater pollution. Since October 2013, Murphy-Brown has refused to allow the expert to conduct the facility evaluations necessary to develop technically sound corrective action plans for pollution at the facilities. The conservation groups were forced to go to federal court to enforce the promises made by Murphy-Brown more than a decade ago.   

“In a victory for clean water, this federal court decision requires Murphy-Brown to make good on its promises to clean up pollution at its hog facilities in eastern North Carolina,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.  “Now the corporation must allow an independent groundwater expert onto 11 of its industrial facilities to determine the severity of groundwater pollution and develop a plan to fix the problems.”

Under the terms of the decree, an independent groundwater expert chosen by the parties evaluated swine facilities in eastern North Carolina owned and operated by Murphy-Brown for potential contamination of groundwater by swine waste. That review identified the 11 facilities with demonstrated nitrate groundwater contamination or waste lagoon problems in Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson and Scotland counties. As part of the review, the expert concluded additional groundwater sampling is needed to ensure that groundwater contamination at each site is cleaned up. 

“Nitrate pollution in groundwater, which can result from leaking lagoons, land application and breaches in waste piping at industrial swine production facilities, poses serious health risks to people consuming untreated well water and can contaminate nearby streams and rivers,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We are pleased that the court put an end to Murphy-Brown’s four-year fight to block sampling and cleanup of groundwater pollution at these company-owned swine facilities in North Carolina.”

“It is unfortunate that once again, an industrial hog corporation is unwilling to address the harm it causes to eastern North Carolina communities and waterways unless taken to court. We have been waiting for more than a decade for Murphy-Brown to clean up the pollution and fulfill their promise. We are glad to see that this will now take place,” said Heather Deck of Sound Rivers.


About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

About Waterkeeper Alliance:
Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates around the world, focusing citizen action on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. The Waterkeeper movement patrols and protects over 2.5 million square miles of rivers, lakes and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia, and Africa. For more information please visit:

About Sound Rivers:
Sound Rivers was formed by the merger of the Neuse and Pamlico-Tar River Foundations on April 1, 2015 which combined two of the oldest conservation organizations in North Carolina.   Sound Rivers continues the mission and purpose of both previous organizations, to monitor, protect and enhance the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico Rivers and watersheds.  These watersheds cover more than 12,000 square miles and include the Pamlico Sound, a major component of the second largest estuary in the United States.  Sound Rivers has three RIVERKEEPER®s who serve as investigators, advocates and educators for their watersheds, and it represents the interests of thousands of members and donors who live, visit or love this beautiful region of North Carolina.  Sound Rivers and its members seek to ensure clean, safe water and an ecologically sound environment for today and for future generations to enjoy.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]