North Carolina’s Animal Waste Problem Has Been Intensified By Recent Flood Events

North Carolina is currently handling an abundance of agriculture-related issues regarding the death of thousands of farm animals and fecal contamination of flood waters due to Hurricane Florence.

Hurricane Florence made landfall on Friday, September 14, at 7:15 a.m. on Wrightsville Beach, N.C. It struck land as a Category 1 hurricane but was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm Friday evening. The National Hurricane Center warned of possible “catastrophic freshwater flooding” from Florence.

Almost 9 million hogs, 819 million chickens and 43 million turkeys are raised in North Carolina each year for the pork a poultry industry. Livestock, Dairy and Poultry comprise nearly 68 percent of cash receipts in North Carolina.

Hogs at an industrial animal-feeding operation in North Carolina. Credit: Gerry Broome / AP

The resulting flooding from the tropical storm resulted in the death of nearly 1.7 million chickens and 5,500 hogs. The N.C. Department of Agriculture issued its mortality totals on September 18 while flooding continued.

Waste from hog and poultry facilities are stored in “lagoons” created by animal defecation being moved along a slatted floor system until it is emptied into an outdoor cesspool.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality noted that an earthen dam at a hog lagoon in Duplin County was breached by floodwaters. In total, the department has determined that 132 of the 4,000 hog-waste lagoons were compromised.

Flooded chicken farm buildings near Trenton, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018. Credit: Steve Helber / AP Photo

Elsie Herring, a resident that has a home in Wallace, North Carolina, said, “People don’t understand how nasty this hog industry is. We’re forced to live with animal waste and nobody seems to care, not even now.”

Herring has filed court documents in the past regarding an “odorous fecal and urinous mist” coming from her neighbor’s hog operation. Nearby contamination was an issue for her long before Hurricane Florence.

Although the conditions haven’t been this bad before, several breaches in hog-waste lagoons have occurred in the past. North Carolina’s Oceanview Farm had an eight-acre hog waste lagoon give way in 1995. It resulted in the release of 25 million gallons of pig feces into the New River’s tributaries.

Other breaches have occurred in the more than two decades since the Oceanview Farm breach, but no discernable change has been made to fix the issue.