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American residents are disproportionately likely to live near industrial hog operations and suffer the effects of these outdated waste management systems.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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New York’s Coolest Summer Volunteer Days? The Billion Oyster Project’s, Of Course

If you like oysters or food, or care about conservation or science or New York City Harbor for that matter, here’s something for your bucket list: Billion Oyster Project (BOP) Volunteer Days. As a Foundation that cares about all of the above, we can assure you that it does not disappoint.

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BOP Volunteers from Moore Charitable and Waterkeeper Alliance. A great day on Governor’s Island!

Yesterday, The Moore Charitable Foundation team and our summer interns spent the day on Governor’s Island, along with volunteers (and friends!) from Waterkeeper Alliance, first touring the New York Harbor School’s oyster hatchery and new math & science facility. Then we got down and dirty – working in the hatchery and building wire cages for the growing BOP oysters to be placed in the harbor.

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BOP oysters thrive in conditions that simulate their natural environment – but do even better when placed on a healthy reef. 

The BOP matches their hatchery to the natural conditions (a.k.a., the oyster reefs in the New York Harbor) in order to best prepare the oysters for life on their own once placed in the wild. Simulating these natural conditions for the growing oysters helps to increase their resilience and survival rates once on the reef – and fortifying the reef is the name of game, as this complex ecosystem provides increased protections for each individual oyster and speeds up the spawning process rate, which in turn enhances the population. A little known fact: the sex of an oyster cannot be determined until it spawns, and reefs ensure that both male and female oysters are in the same vicinity when spawning occurs.

BOP has recently obtained a large new boat which will be used for placement of these oysters into the harbor and are preparing for a big placement project in the next few days.  The goal is to create reefs in all 5 boroughs of Manhattan, and BOP staff are working hard to prep all the materials – including the cages we built – needed to get this project underway. These volunteer days help BOP get even closer to their goal.

The energy at the Harbor School is palpable, and it’s not hard to see that BOP reach and influence is spreading like wildfire throughout the city. The number of partner restaurants, for instance, has grown from 8 to 50 over the past year, and curiosity about the initiative abounds far beyond the City limits. We were thrilled to have done just a little bit of our part to help move the needle for these big summer projects – and encourage all of you within reach of the City to consider volunteering for a day this summer.

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.

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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.

A look back at 2015: a tremendous year with tremendous conservation and community partners

It’s nearing the end of a tremendous year, made so for The Moore Charitable Foundation and the land, water and wildlife causes we champion, thanks to the accomplishments and ongoing efforts of all of our tremendous partners. holidayFrom globally recognized power houses like the Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance, to small but mighty organizations such as Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, the groups with whom we work are making the world a better place for all of us.

Our diverse partners around the world are unified by their commitment to conservation and the empowerment of the communities they represent. On a local and planet-wide scale, these groups are making an incredible impact on our future through research, collaboration, education, advocacy, policy change and outreach. Here are just a few highlights of the year.

Wishing you and yours a fantastic new year – see you in 2016!

Collaborating to Improve Hog Farming Practices

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Aerial image by Mark Devries over a factory farm in North Carolina

As you know, for many years, by partnering with Waterkeeper Alliance, we have been fighting pollution produced by industrial hog farms (aka CAFOs), which keep large numbers of pigs in small, confined places.

In November, The Moore Charitable Foundation and Environmental Grantmakers Association hosted an hour-long webinar to discuss the impacts of CAFOs. Representatives from Waterkeeper, Food & Water Watch, and Johns Hopkins University spoke about their work and necessary reforms. Speakers included Bob Martin, Senior Policy Advisor, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future,  Former Executive Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Agriculture; Kelly Foster, Senior Attorney, Waterkeeper Alliance; Jillian Fry, Project Director, Johns Hopkins University; and Patty Lovera, Assistant Director, Food & Water Watch.

Speakers discussed violations of the Clean Water Act; the pressing public health concern of overuse of antibiotics at CAFOs; the spread of pollution, antimicrobial-resistant pathogens, the emission of greenhouse gases including methane and nitrous oxide, and the contamination of nearby water bodies from untreated manure lagoons.

Small farms are being shut out of business by large factory farms that monopolize the industry. Patty Lovera from Food & Water Watch stated, “Monopolies reduce competition, raise prices, drive out innovation and prevent newer innovative companies from getting into the market…These companies have become the deciders – in matters of policy and farm practice and have become the primary barrier to making a meaningful shift to a more sustainable and more equitable food system.”

Documentary filmmaker Mark Devries has captured video footage of this issue depicting massive lagoons of untreated hog waste in North Carolina. In Devries 2013 film “Speciesism,” a two-year investigation highlights the dire consequences of waste management on factory farms across the United States. Learn more about his work here.

We must come together to fight this harmful industry and find solutions. I am hopeful that the webinar and new video footage will help spread the word on CAFOs and inspire action. Do your part by pledging to support sustainable farms, not animal factories.