First published on Waterkeeper Alliance.
Conservation groups today filed a motion in federal court seeking to require an industrial hog operation, Murphy-Brown, to comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up its groundwater contamination at several hog facilities in eastern North Carolina. Under the agreement, an independent groundwater expert identified 11 facilities in the Neuse, Lumber, and Cape Fear River basins with demonstrated threats to groundwater or confirmed groundwater pollution.
Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc, the largest pork factory operation in the world, faced four different legal challenges relating to Clean Water Act violations from its massive industrial hog facilities before a 2006 agreement with Waterkeeper Alliance and the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation (now Sound Rivers, Inc.) was reached. But the motion filed today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers alleges that Murphy-Brown has failed to comply with a central component of the agreement — remedying demonstrated groundwater hazards at its hog facilities in eastern North Carolina.
“Based on the company’s own records, an independent expert has determined that 11 of Murphy Brown’s facilities are endangering our groundwater in three of North Carolina’s river basins,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re asking the court to require the corporation to make good on its promises and to clean up its facilities.”
Under the terms of the agreement, an independent groundwater expert chosen by the parties evaluated Murphy-Brown owned and operated swine facilities in eastern North Carolina for potential contamination of groundwater by swine waste. That review identified the 11 facilities with demonstrated groundwater contamination or waste lagoon problems in Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson and Scotland counties. As part of the review, the expert identified additional groundwater sampling needed to ensure that groundwater contamination at each site is cleaned up.
“We hope the court promptly orders the necessary information collection,” said Will Hendrick, Chapel Hill-based staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “The parties selected a neutral expert and we should rely on his expertise regarding the nature and extent of investigation needed to fully evaluate, and respond to, the problems with lagoons and groundwater pollution identified at these facilities.”
Murphy-Brown refuses to allow the consultant to take necessary groundwater samples. The motion follows failed attempts to resolve Murphy Brown’s objections through settlement. In today’s motion, SELC asks the court to require the company to adhere to the requirements of the agreement between the parties and allow the consultant to gather necessary data to develop corrective action plans for each of the 11 identified sites that pose a threat to groundwater.
“We are disappointed that Murphy Brown is not willing to move forward with the next phase of the settlement agreement, which would establish what needs to be done to clean up groundwater pollution at these facilities,” said Harrison Marks, executive director of Sound Rivers. “We will continue to seek enforcement of this agreement.”