Hurricane Florence Exposes Factory-farm Manure's Threat to North Carolina

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40 Billion Gallons of Waste Produced Annually Just in Cape Fear River Basin

RALEIGH, N.C.— If Hurricane Florence hits North Carolina, manure released from overflowing or breached pits holding tens of millions of pounds of animal waste could create an extended threat to public health and the environment.

Just four counties in the flood-prone lower Cape Fear River basin house more than 30 million farm animals, which produce more than 40 billion pounds of animal waste annually, according to estimates by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Millions of North Carolina residents face a truly sickening pollution risk because of weak safety measures at these factory farms,” said Hannah Connor, a Center attorney specializing in harms caused by factory farming. “This massive storm underscores the huge threat to water supplies  and public health. But the ongoing health risks posed by the billions of gallons of waste generated by factory farms won’t go away when floodwaters disappear.”

Additional health risks stem from so many of the state’s tens of millions of hogs, chickens and turkeys being housed in the storm’s path, creating the danger of mass mortalities and the hasty, unsafe disposal of carcasses.

This is not the first time a major storm event has uncovered the risks posed by massive industrial factory farms in North Carolina, which is home to the second-largest hog population in the country, as well as one of the largest turkey and poultry populations.

After Hurricane Floyd dumped as much as 20 inches of rain across the region in 1999, animal-waste lagoons overflowed directly into waterways and surrounding communities, prompting state officials to buy out some factory farms located in floodplains.

But dozens of factory farms remain inside the state’s 100-year floodplain. And despite the state’s pledge to reduce health and environmental risks posed by farmed animals and their waste during catastrophic floods, in 2016 Hurricane Matthew reportedly flooded at least 14 waste lagoons and killed tens of thousands, if not millions, of farm animals.  

Even during more routine weather events, the unchecked growth of massive, poorly regulated factory farms has left the region’s high water table and numerous waterways at constant risk of pollution. That’s because industrial hog and poultry production operations in the area rely on waste-management and disposal systems that are highly susceptible to harmful runoff and spills.

“These dangerous, loosely regulated factory farms pose an unacceptable threat to human health and to the welfare of millions of animals,” said Connor. “Until we move toward more sustainable farming practices and the Environmental Protiection Agency takes a more realistic approach to reducing these industrial operations’ harm to animals and the environment, the risks will only escalate.”

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