EPA Expresses “Deep Concern” Over Discriminatory Impacts of Industrial Hog Operations in North Carolina

Published first by Waterkeeper Alliance.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – In a January 12th letter to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ), the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) External Civil Rights Compliance Office expressed “deep concern” that the State’s failure to adequately regulate more than 2,200 industrial hog operations has a disparate, discriminatory impact on African American, Latino, and Native American communities in eastern North Carolina. The letter was sent to NCDEQ in connection with EPA’s ongoing investigation into a federal civil rights complaint filed in September 2014 by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), and Waterkeeper Alliance. The groups are represented in this matter by Earthjustice and the UNC Center For Civil Rights.

EPA’s “Letter of Concern” urges NCDEQ to take immediate steps to address the discriminatory impacts of the State’s swine waste management system. For decades, state law has allowed industrial swine operations to dispose of hog waste using lagoon and sprayfield systems, which store hog feces and urine in open-air, unlined pits before spraying this waste onto fields. As part of their investigation, EPA officials have evaluated scientific research and reports showing that North Carolina’s African American, Latino, and Native American residents are disproportionately likely to live near industrial hog operations and suffer the effects of these outdated waste management systems.

EPA’s documented concerns come three months after community members from eastern North Carolina traveled to Washington, D.C. and urged agency officials to visit the region to better understand the health and environmental impacts that industrial hog operations have on communities of color. EPA officials made the trip to North Carolina last November as part of a fact-finding effort that yielded testimony from 85 residents who live in close proximity to these facilities.

In light of this testimony, EPA’s letter recognizes that many communities of color in eastern North Carolina are left to contend with the cumulative impacts of living and working near numerous sources of pollution. “This is part of a broader environmental justice issue in North Carolina,” says NCEJN co-director, Naeema Muhammad. “The same African American, Latino, and Native American communities living near these swine operations also live near a growing number of poultry facilities, landfills, and other land uses that other people are able to refuse.”

EPA’s letter stands in stark contrast to the responses that community members have historically received from NCDEQ. “We have tried to work with NCDEQ for fifteen years, in hopes of getting better regulation and oversight of industrial hog operations, but those efforts have been futile,” says REACH Executive Director, Devon Hall. “After years of telling state officials about the horrendous impacts these facilities have on our daily lives, it is clear that the federal government shares our concern that the State is failing to comply with civil rights laws.”

NCDEQ’s treatment of concerned community members and the state regulator’s friendly relationship with representatives of the pork industry are also scrutinized in the letter from EPA. EPA officials expressed “grave concerns” regarding the longstanding intimidation and hostility that community members have faced from industry representatives when they voice their concerns to the state agency.

“For far too long, NCDEQ has prioritized customer service for the benefit of polluters instead of environmental protection for the benefit of all North Carolinians,” says Will Hendrick, Waterkeeper Alliance Staff Attorney. “We are glad EPA shared our concerns and are hopeful that the new NCDEQ administration will view this as an opportunity to take long overdue action.”

NCEJN, REACH, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed an additional complaint with EPA after members of the National Pork Producers Council arrived at what was supposed to have been a confidential mediation session between the community groups and NCDEQ in January 2016.

EPA’s letter to NCDEQ concludes with key recommendations that the state agency should take immediate steps to implement. EPA recognizes that available, alternative waste management technologies would decrease pollution and odor caused by the use of lagoon and sprayfield systems. EPA also calls on NCDEQ to institute a “functioning nondiscrimination program,” including the introduction of staff and procedures to handle complaints from the public.

NCEJN, REACH, and Waterkeeper Alliance hope that NCDEQ will adopt these recommendations, and look forward to working with state leadership to bring long-awaited changes to North Carolina’s regulation of swine facilities.

Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation affiliate The Orton Foundation are proud partners of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN), the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), Waterkeeper Alliance and UNC Center For Civil Rights.

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Fields Of Filth: Landmark Report Maps Feces-Laden Hog And Chicken Operations In North Carolina

Today, Waterkeeper Alliance, North Carolina Riverkeeper organizations and Environmental Working Group released an interactive map that reveals the locations of more than 6,500 CAFOs in NC. The joint WKA/EWG press release is below.

WASHINGTON – A first-of-its-kind interactive map revealing the locations of more than 6,500 concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, across the state of North Carolina was released today by Waterkeeper Alliance, North Carolina Riverkeeper organizations and Environmental Working Group.

In addition to swine and cattle CAFOs, the project documents the locations of over 3,900 poultry operations, which up until now have been shielded from the people of North Carolina.

The maps, which EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance researchers constructed over more than three years, provide a never-before-seen aerial view of the CAFOs blanketing the state. This includes the manure lagoons from swine operations, detailing how close they are to streams, rivers and other public water sources.

The maps feature satellite photos of each of the thousands of facilities.

CAFO-Distance

Infographic: EWG / Waterkeeper Alliance

The unprecedented mapping project identifies approximate locations of all swine, poultry and cattle CAFO operations in the state, as well as the size of the operations. The online maps allow users to view total estimated waste outputs on a facility, watershed, county or statewide scale. All told, researchers from the groups estimate more than 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste and 2 million tons of dry animal waste is generated annually in North Carolina from CAFOs, leaving tens of thousands of rural residents susceptible to air and water quality contamination.

“For far too long, North Carolinians have been kept in the dark about the true impact these industrial factory farms are having on communities and waterways,” said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. “Information is power and now that these sites are definitively identified, we will hold accountable the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for enforcing the Clean Water Act and fixing these massive pollution problems.”

“Animal agriculture operations are one of the leading sources of water and air pollution in the country and are making people sick,” said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of EWG. “These maps show for the first time, that thousands of CAFOs and the animal waste they produce are often adjacent to communities and vital water sources.”

Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources published a wide-ranging study showing elevated levels of both nitrates and ammonia in waterways near hog CAFOs in eastern North Carolina. Researchers behind the three year USGS/DENR study found that “animal feeding operations have measureable affects on stream water quality in many agricultural watersheds in the North Carolina Coastal Plain” with nearly 60 percent of the watersheds where CAFOs are located having “distinct differences in water quality reflecting swine and/or poultry manure effects.”

Nitrates at high levels in waterways can kill off fish, and when ingested through contaminated drinking water can cause the potentially fatal “blue baby syndrome” in infants, among other illnesses in humans.

Hog manure pits also contain a mix of dangerous pathogens, like Salmonella and pharmaceuticals, among many other agents that can leach into surface water sources.  As the maps show, there are more than 4,100 manure pits in North Carolina, with nearly 50 percent of them located Duplin and Sampson counties alone.

Beyond the threat to water, the air in the communities next to many of these CAFOs is often polluted, too. The odor from the hog manure stored in these pits, a mix between rotten eggs and ammonia, regularly drifts into adjacent neighborhoods and homes, forcing residents to cover their mouths and noses with masks when outside. Studies,including one from researchers with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Michigan, found the ammonia released into the air from swine CAFOs in North Carolina “is potentially hazardous for nearby human populations at community locations, particularly homes and schools.”

Additional research has shown the air pollution from CAFOs like those in North Carolina can elevate the risks forrespiratory problems, eye and nose irritation, and increased mental stress for those who live and work near these animal feeding operations.

The noxious fumes from CAFO operations in Halifax County have sometimes forced nearby residents, who could afford it, to stay in area motels until the plumes that hung over their homes passed.

Other serious health problems associated with these animal agriculture operations include the growing threat of superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. According to the Pew Charitable Trust’s Antibiotic Resistance Project, roughly 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used on hogs, chickens and cattle to make them grow faster. Estimates show farm animals in North Carolina receive more antibiotics than all Americans combined.

The map project also highlights key information, including statistics, that has never before been made available:

  • 10 billion gallons of wet animal waste are produced each year in North Carolina.
  • Across North Carolina, there is the equivalent of over 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools brimming with swine and cattle waste from CAFOs alone.
  • Annually, poultry operations in the state produce more than 2 million tons of dry animal waste.
  • 4,145 waste pits make up 6,848 acres of land (29,831,277 square feet).
  • 37 waste pits are within 2,500 feet of a school.
  • 288 waste pits are within 2,500 feet of a church.
  • 136 waste pits are within 2,500 feet of a public water well.
  • 170 waste pits are within the state’s 100-year floodplain.
  • Poultry housed in CAFO facilities outnumber residents by 20 to one.

Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper, regularly flies over his basin in the Piedmont of North Carolina. “We have 1,000 poultry houses in the Catawba River basin in North Carolina,” he stated. “With the public record exemption afforded by state regulations, the industry has exploded throughout this beautiful region, and these maps finally show just how extensive that growth is. Many of these operations cannot even take the simple measure of covering their waste piles with a simple tarp to prevent runoff. Downstream of many of these sites, the Catawba River is dammed into lakes, which serve as major regional drinking water reservoirs and provide tens of billions of dollars of property tax base critical to local economies. The toxin microcystin produced by harmful algal blooms – like those seen in eastern North Carolina and in Toledo, Ohio – fueled by nutrient runoff from these sites, would be disastrous for the Charlotte region.”

Elsie Herring is a Duplin County resident affected by CAFO pollution. “For the first time, I can see a map of the entire state and look at where I live in the southeastern part and see the overwhelming concentration of these facilities in my community,” Herring said. “On a local level, we now have the tools and information we need to protect ourselves and our waterways from the very real impacts of these facilities on our health, homes and community. This will force this industry to finally have transparency, as its lasting impact is projected and amplified for all to see.”

The map project will be housed on Waterkeeper Alliance’s and Environmental Working Group’s websites, and will continue to be developed. Over the weeks and months ahead, locations of processing plants and feed mills will be added. The team behind this initiative will also produce similar maps for other states in the U.S. with significant CAFO operations to demonstrate the enormous impact the factory farm industry has on human health and the environment.

Waterkeeper Alliance Contact: Tina Posterli, Waterkeeper Alliance, 212.747.0622 or tposterli@waterkeeper.org

Louis BaconThe Moore Charitable Foundation, and local affiliate The Orton Foundation are proud partners of WaterKeeper Alliance.

Stop the hog industry from spraying pig waste on our homes

Last week, The Moore Charitable Foundation team attended the 2016 Waterkeeper Alliance Conference in Wilmington, North Carolina. The location of the event underscored Waterkeeper’s significant efforts to address the environmental destruction and injustice caused by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).

As a nation of concerned citizens, we need to tell the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights to help stop the civil rights violations in North Carolina and protect families against environmental injustice. Please read the Change.org petition excerpt below from local resident Elsie Herring who has courageously stepped up, in the face of daily intimidation, to urge us to sign now in support of the basic human rights of clean and clean water for all.

Elsie Herring of Wallace, NC

Elsie Herring of Wallace, NC. Photo (c) Change.org

The hog operation next door makes my life miserable. The pork industry down here in North Carolina places profits over my civil rights. I have no choice but to live with spray manure blowing onto my property. There’s an increase in snakes, rats, flies, and mosquitoes. There’s a horrific odor seeping into my house even when the windows are shut as the Health Department has advised.

Please sign my petition telling the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights to help stop the civil rights violations here in North Carolina and protect families like mine from exposure to hog waste.

The powerful hog industry should not get away with this poor treatment of people of color and the environment just as those who brushed aside concerns of those in Flint, Michigan should be held accountable for their shameful discrimination and the health and environmental impact that caused.

I’ve had the contract grower next door call me a “bitch” repeatedly because of my complaints. I’ve had men on my property with guns to intimidate me. I’ve had local authorities with connections to the hog industry tell me defending my right to clean air and water could put me in prison.

Do you ever see hog facilities set up in wealthy, white communities? Why do you think that is?

Epidemiologists from the University of North Carolina determined these industrial hog operations “disproportionately affect Black, Hispanic and American Indian residents,” and this reflects a pattern “generally recognized as environmental racism.”

I live on property that’s been in my family since the 1800s when my grandfather bought it after being freed from slavery. My mother lived here her whole life. It’s a shame that the hog industry came in a couple decades ago, without giving proper notice, and causes such problems for longtime residents.

If the liquid waste can eat the paint off my car just imagine what it’s doing to our bodies.  When they start spraying around manure from their lagoons, you know it. Your eyes start running, you start coughing and gagging, and you have trouble breathing and your heart rate goes up. Headaches from the odor are all too common.

Our air is so polluted that we can’t hang our clothes out to dry unless we want them to smell like pig waste and risk having the manure mist cover our clothing. The water is so foul, we cannot drink from the well. There’s depression, anger, and frustration because many in my community have been doing all we can do stop this discriminatory treatment.

This is a desperate situation. As people of color and those who are poor, we are being taken advantage of, and now the EPA is looking into the discrimination and needs to know many American taxpayers want this to be taken seriously.

Over the years, I’ve done all I can to get some justice. I called everyone there is to call and attended any meeting where I could speak up to voice my concerns. It has not been enough, and that’s why I need you.

CLICK HERE to please ask the EPA to step in and investigate this discrimination. If it happens to me, it’s going to happen next door. It’s just a matter of time before it happens in your neighborhood.

This petition will be delivered to: Office of General Counsel, Environmental Protection Agency Avi Garbow

Cape Fear River Watch: Advocating for a Bright Future for North Carolina’s Largest Watershed

“Support from the Orton Foundation allows Cape Fear River Watch to aggressively fight pollution associated with unsustainable factory farms throughout the watershed. This work is improving the Cape Fear River for all North Carolinians; strengthening our environment, our economy, and our quality of life”  – Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper

In this month of March Madness (Go Tar Heels!), as we play out our #MooreRivers and #MooreWaters focus, let’s circle back to The Cape Fear River.

The Cape Fear River system is the largest in North Carolina: it encompasses a 9,000-square-mile basin that includes streams flowing within 29 of the state’s 100 counties. With Greensboro, Burlington, Chapel Hill, Sanford, Fayetteville, Dunn, Clinton, Warsaw, Burgaw, Wilmington and many other municipalities situated within its boundaries, its basin has become one of the most industrialized regions in North Carolina: nearly a third of the state’s population rely on the river and its tributaries for freshwater, transportation, recreation, natural habitats for abundant wildlife species, and other uses. The Cape Fear Estuary—a 35-mile section of the river between Wilmington and the Atlantic Ocean, part of which forms a section of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, features saline waters critical to habitats and breeding grounds for many animals, including fish, crabs, and shrimp.

With all of these pressures, and so much at stake, Louis Bacon and The Moore Charitable Foundation’s North Carolinian affiliate The Orton Foundation are very grateful that one organization in particular acts as a watchdog and advocate for this mighty but stressed river. Gumboots on the ground and in concert with partners such as the Southern Environmental Law Center and the NC Coastal Federation, Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW) loves this body of water perhaps more than any of us. Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette is at the helm.

A member of Waterkeeper Alliance, CFRW’s mandate is as follows:

  • Education. CFRW organizes environmental seminars covering issues affecting the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. They encourage working internships for students and offer water-quality education programs to schools, civic groups, developers, homeowner associations and others. They provide storm water management training for local government staff.
  • Advocacy: Riverkeeper and Riverwatch members work on water quality related issues such as stopping heavy industrial pollution, concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs (elaborated below), and fish restoration in the Cape Fear River.
  • Action: CFRW encourages participation on and in the river, from paddling to cleaning up, to monitoring water quality and conduct research.

A Focus on CAFOs:

By documenting and showcasing the illegal pollution associated with factory farms throughout the Cape Fear Basin, CFRW is forcing factory farms to improve their practices. This is critical work because there are more CAFOs in the Cape Fear River Basin than any other place on Earth, resulting in over 5 million hogs, 16 million turkeys, and 300 million chickens produced annually in the region. The enormous amounts of pollution discharge from both swine and poultry CAFOs contain nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, heavy metals such as copper, toxic gases including methane, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia and deadly bacteria and viruses such as MRSA and salmonella.

Despite extensive evidence demonstrating significant contributions of nutrient and bacterial pollution from CAFOs to public waters, the state if North Carolina has failed to uphold its delegated responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. Out of the over 2,000 swine CAFOs in North Carolina, only 14 have been required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit, while the majority operate under a State General Permit that wrongly assumes that all pollution is contained on-site. In truth it leaches into the water table, is sprayed onto field polluting the air and properties of communities, and has widespread devastating effects on people, air and water.

Through group water sampling, ongoing legal cases, and committed collaboration with other partners, CFRW’s work has resulted in cleanup efforts at these facilities. As well, CFRW educates and organizes communities in order to keep new slaughterhouse operations out of the Cape Fear Basin.

We encourage readers to learn more about Cape Fear River Watch here.

The Southern Environment Law Center: Keeping North Carolina CAFOs in check

Here, in post #2 of a focus on The Orton Foundation partner Southern Environment Law Center,  we highlight the SELC’s work in addressing the pollution and injustice caused by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and protecting the air quality, water quality, and natural resources of the lower Cape Fear River.

Eastern North Carolina in particular has one of the highest concentrations of concentrated animal feeding operations in the world. The mind-boggling amount of untreated animal waste produced by factory farms, or CAFOs, and the side-stepping around pollution regulations work to threaten local waterways and the health and wellness of local communities. By denying independent consultants access to sites for groundwater sampling, and by attempting to change the classification of waters, North Carolina swine producers and sympathizers are refusing to address pollution, and refusing to acknowledge the environmental injustice forced upon local communities — often poor, African Americans.

In February 2015, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) submitted a proposal to reclassify the segment of the Cape Fear River that flows through Brunswick County as slow-moving “swamp waters.” This reclassification of the river would allow regulators to reduce water quality protections  and ignore the impacts of pollution from upstream factory farms.

Thanks to the vigilance and determination of partners such as the SELC, these attempts that thwart the responsibility of the largest operations, such as now foreign-owned Smithfield Foods, are challenged. For instance, in October 2015, SELC filed a motion in federal court on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and South Rivers seeking to require groundwater analysis at 11 Smithfield Foods facilities in eastern North Carolina.

Keep informed about the SELC’s CAFOs efforts and more by signing up for their newsletter at the bottom of their website. You’d be surprised by all the critical issues they are keeping in check in order to protect the air and water of North Carolina and around the country.