We are getting new information about the environmental impacts of Hurricane Matthew, as flood waters inundate areas across Eastern North Carolina.
Hog lagoon flooding
According to Stephanie Hawco with the NC Department of Environmental Quality, 11 hog farms across Eastern North Carolina have been inundated with floodwaters.
“We have no reports of any breaches of the lagoons, but 11 where the floodwaters came into the lagoon, flooding from the outside in,” Hawco explained. In these situations, the lagoons are under water, but the berms surrounding the massive hog manure pits remain intact. In this scenario, diluted quantities of wastewater are able to seep out of the lagoons and into the surface water.
Hawco says at this point, they have had no true “breaches”. Breaches are defined in the hog industry as a berm giving way completely, allowing massive amounts of waste to flow out with nothing remaining to contain it.
The Department of Environmental quality is working to get us specific locations of the inundated hog farms, and we are also trying to get in touch with residents who live near the farms to get their reaction to these developments.
According to Elizabeth Haddix, an attorney for the UNC Center for Civil rights, “Those residents have been pleading with the State for years for protection from the waste disposal practices of this industry, to no avail.”
Haddix cited issues residents face with the stench and water contamination from these hog farms, and “the very predictable and foreseeable results of extreme weather on these incredibly concentrated number of hog and poultry operations, their unsustainable waste disposal systems….”
There are over 2,100 hog farms in North Carolina, the majority of them in the Cape Fear River Basin. Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette calls it the greatest concentration of hog farms anywhere in the world, with millions of hogs being raised in factory-scale farms here:
Matthew vs. Floyd damage at NC hog farms
While most of the hog farms in our region faced tremendous challenges as a result of the storm, NC Pork Council CEO Deborah Johnson says the damage has been relatively minimal. Even though flooding from Matthew rivaled Hurricane Floyd, so far, the impacts to hog farms have been significantly less this time.
The NC Pork Council, reports that 50 lagoons flooded during Floyd in 1999 and 6 lagoons were breached, compared to 11 flooding so far following Matthew, with 0 reported breaches.
Matthew is estimated to have killed fewer than 3,000 swine at this point, compared to tens of thousands killed during Floyd. About 2 million poultry have also been killed on North Carolina poultry farms as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
Municipal Waste Water Failures
It’s not just hog and poultry waste presenting an environmental hazard in the floodwaters. More than a dozen municipalities in the region have spilled untreated human waste into the waters in the wake of Matthew.
The Department of Environmental Quality should be releasing more details soon, but we are told the spills include a 6.2 million gallon spill in Dunn, a 1 million gallon spill in Elizabeth City, and a 1 million gallon spill in Washington.
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