The High Cost of Hog Waste
January 22, 2019 8:37 AM   Subscribe

North Carolina's hog waste problem has a long history. "In September of 1999, North Carolina found itself facing a foul problem. As Hurricane Floyd battered the coast, floodwaters breached lagoons of animal waste from the state's industrial hog farms, transforming rural counties into seas of toxic, foul-smelling, bacteria-laden sludge. The storm drowned two million chickens and turkeys and 110,000 hogs. It also engulfed their waste, sending a deluge of feces, urine, and animal carcasses into waterways—and causing an environmental hazard that lingered as long as the stench." (SL Pacific Standard)

Hog waste and the waste from other commercially raised animals appear to be a significant health hazard for residents who live near waste lagoons. Shockingly, animal waste is largely unregulated. "Confined food-animal operations in the United States produce more than 40 times the amount of waste than human biosolids generated from US wastewater treatment plants. Unlike biosolids, which must meet regulatory standards for pathogen levels, vector attraction reduction and metal content, no treatment is required of waste from animal agriculture."

"The resulting health problems are well documented," says Earthjustice. "A new Duke University study shows that people living in communities with the highest density of hog operations experienced 30 percent more deaths among patients with kidney disease, 50 percent more deaths among patients with anemia, and 130 percent more deaths among patients with sepsis, as compared to people in communities without big hog operations. Despite the obvious health impacts, the Environmental Protection Agency has exempted CAFOs from notifying authorities and communities when they release dangerous quantities of toxic gases."

Unsurprisingly, poor people and people of color tend to be most affected by these waste lagoons. "Today, many North Carolina hog farmers continue to store hog waste in open pits despite the millions of dollars in private investment spent and years of research and political promises," reports WFAE Radio. "The division between farmer and neighbor is palpable here — and falls along racial lines in a state where agriculture has its roots in the plantation system, and where Confederate monuments still stand on the Capitol’s grounds."

Last fall The New Yorker asked if Smithfield Foods could have prevented the “rivers of hog waste” in North Carolina after Florence. This month Wired suggested that if edible insects are the future, we should talk about poop.

That is an excellent idea, because managing the poop from the critters raised for food is a huge problem. "The fact that few people are thinking about sustainability fits a pattern. 'We think, oh, insects are going to be the silver bullet on protein and nutrition. But what about all this other stuff?' "

Meanwhile, Smithfield Foods claimed last year that it will "use covered lagoons and digesters on 90 percent of its hog finishing farms within 10 years, a move that could reduce greenhouse gasses, create renewable energy and open opportunities in the biogas sector." In March, Colorado-based Carbon Cycle Energy plans to begin construction on a plant in Duplin County to produce biogas from hog waste.
posted by Bella Donna (10 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
to produce biogas from hog waste. Hey, I saw that movie.
posted by eye of newt at 8:59 AM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Time to make the term "red state water" get a Google-backed meaning.
posted by ocschwar at 9:55 AM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

> according to a 2002 study, more African Americans live in areas with flooded CAFOs than white people, and most of the plaintiffs in these nuisance cases are black<

Oh, OK, no worries then...

(SARCASM tag implied fer gosh sake -- but I think it helps explain the problem)
posted by twidget at 10:07 AM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

CAFOs are an issue in Iowa, as well. While we don't get the extreme waste events associated with a hurricane, the nitrogen produced by animal waste is a significant factor in the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 10:15 AM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

more African Americans live in areas with flooded CAFOs than white people

This is true of almost every human-caused disaster area in the country, except in the West where it's more likely to be reservations.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:38 PM on January 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

"A slurry of urine and feces that mists their homes."

I grew up in Sampson County, which was called out in the article. I mostly remember friends whose familiies owned small hog farms, and the giant hog processor Lundy's, which put a very specific, very weird smell into the air. I do not remember the slurry, but it was likely because I was in an upper class area of this sprawling county. I now know that North Carolina has a long history of failing to protect intersections of racial and environmental justice. Read up on "Soul City" for another example.

When people wonder what bad governance looks like and want to hand-wave away those pesky civil rights issues that have spotlighted NC in recent years, the above phrase is the one I will use.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 2:12 PM on January 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

In college, I had a friend who had a band but couldn't find anywhere to practice - so he rented a house out by a pig refinery.

Upon first visit, we got about a mile away from the house and had to turn the car around.

His band split up, no-one ever visited his place, but he couldn't afford/ wrangle himself out of the lease so he stayed there. Eventually he stopped smelling it - but it was obvious to everyone else when he was in the room as the smell had soaked into his very essence.
posted by porpoise at 3:04 PM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do not even want to imagine what superpowers you'd get from this
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:49 PM on January 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

super? Power - inducing fellow frat members to puke, especially for those psychologically primed to it (with a physiological gut full of cheap beer).

One of the stupid initiation/hazing things was that pledges had to lick him. He apparently became one of the more popular/ influential, but that could have been him aging into being a senior and then supersenior.

Funny thing was, he claimed that it ended up smelling like fresh mown hay - but that real hay didn't have a smell anymore.
posted by porpoise at 10:35 PM on January 22, 2019

CAFOs are an issue in Iowa, as well.

One of my least favorite parts of RAGBRAI is riding past a feed-lot operation. It's difficult to ride a bike without breathing, but I do my best.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:28 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

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