Why you should care
Because imagine if you lived next to a pool filled with steaming pig poop.
North Carolina is currently suffering post-Hurricane Matthew, not only with floodwaters but also a likely tens of thousands of drowned livestock. But even before the devastation wrought by this hurricane, many residents have only to open a window to get the nostalgic stench of manure, the sweet smell of wheat mixed in a potpourri of rotten eggs, ammonia and stomach acid. A report came out this summer plotting the coordinates of every animal feeding operation in the state and the
4,100 livestock cesspools
that accompany them. Along with its infamous smoked brisket and ribs, North Carolina, the BBQ capital of the country, produces 10 billion gallons of moist, fragrant animal feces a year, enough to fill 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools. And as this aerial map, created by Waterkeeper Alliance and Environmental Working Group, clearly shows, the majority of these lagoons reside near people of color and low incomes. “It’s really just providing basic information to people about what’s happening in their neighborhoods that’s been behind a veil of secrecy,” says Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at EWG.
If Flint was ground zero for the latest environmental crisis, look to Duplin and Sampson counties next.
The report’s authors argue the location of these poop pools has affected air and water quality for tens of thousands of rural residents. A U.S. Geological Survey and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources study released last year showed elevated levels of nitrates and ammonia, by-products of fecal waste, in waterways near animal feeding operations. But Deborah Johnson of the North Carolina Pork Council pointed out to OZY that many of these rivers and streams are also near cities like Raleigh, which likewise create sewage and urban runoff.
But back to the stink. It becomes particularly putrid in summer as the pits of hog dung fester in the sun and humidity, breeding bacteria. A Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Michigan study found that high temperatures and proximity correlated to potentially hazardous levels of ammonia in the air around nearby schools and homes. Some residents have resorted to wearing face masks. While North Carolina has plenty of environmental regulations, a number of lawsuits currently winding through the courts will eventually determine if they’re being enforced and if they’re enough.
The Tar Heel state’s hog farming industry is worth $3 billion, nearly doubling since the early ’90s. Although North Carolina was once a leading manufacturer and currently remains the country’s top textile employer, offshoring has continued to siphon jobs. So, environment aside, the growing livestock industry means jobs.
But Andrew Gunther, program director for North Carolina’s Animal Welfare Approved, which certifies responsibly raised meat and dairy products, points out that large corporations own most of the animals and reap the profits, while farmers are left with the shit end of the deal. It’s difficult to dispose of feces when there are millions of pigs closed in pens, where the poop quickly piles up. His answer is for family farmers to own the livestock. When hogs roam in outdoor pastures, the manure gets evenly distributed and Mother Nature can handle the rest.