NCDEQ: Water samples near hog waste spill show high levels of bacteria

Water samples taken near the site where nearly 30,000 gallons of hog waste spilled in Bladen County show heightened levels of bacteria.
Published: Feb. 7, 2023 at 5:48 PM EST
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BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Water samples taken near the site where nearly 30,000 gallons of hog waste spilled in Bladen County show heightened levels of bacteria.

The spill happened when a pipe failed at the Murphy-Brown farm in Bladen County off of Old Fayetteville Road. A spokesperson for Smithfield Foods says crews on the farm took steps to stop the spill and return the wastewater to the farm’s permitted system.

“Remediation efforts have been successful in capturing and returning the discharged material to the permitted system,” the spokesperson told WECT.

Samples taken three days after the spill near some parts of the spill site, however, show levels of fecal coliform colonies are well above the state quality standard.

A sample taken from the site where the waste entered Little Turnbull Creek showed a level of 640 colonies/100mL. The state standard is 200/100mL.

Another sample near a beaver dam where a North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality representative says the majority of the hog waste was contained showed a level of 540 fecal coliform colonies per 100mL.

The NCDEQ says the site upstream showed a level of 64/100mL, a road crossing downstream had levels of 163/100mL, and a site downstream from the dam showed levels of 46/100mL.

Jillian Howell is the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper with Sound Rivers, a nonprofit environmental group based in North Carolina. She says incidents like this happen too frequently outside of storms and worries about the health impacts on nearby residents and animals.

“In fecal bacteria, it’s not just a harm to wildlife and the ecosystem, it’s also a public health problem,” Howell said. “So. if people are exposed or come into contact with that water, whether it’s recreation there or downstream, those levels of fecal coliform have impacts to public health.”

She says the liquid waste remnants of the spill will remain for some time.

“It’s liquid waste, a lot of it, so you can’t remove that out of the water,” Howell said. “It’s sort of just a dissipation downstream. So, once it’s in the water, it’s super hard to remove. So, hopefully there will be some repairs at this facility and whatever issues happened there they will address so that this doesn’t occur again.”

A Smithfield Foods spokesperson issued a statement saying: “To prevent future discharges of this type, all repairs and installations of HDPE pipe will be pressure tested before being placed in operation, farm personnel will be retrained on daily inspections of pipes and on procedures for managing secondary containments.”

The state is in the process of finalizing a notice of violation for the spill and tells WECT it should be available soon.