Just four counties in the flood-prone lower Cape Fear River basin house more than 30 million farm animals, which produce more than 40 billion pounds of animal waste annually, according to estimates by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Millions of North Carolina residents face a truly sickening pollution risk because of weak safety measures at these factory farms,” said Hannah Connor, a Center attorney specializing in harms caused by factory farming. “This massive storm underscores the huge threat to water supplies and public health. But the ongoing health risks posed by the billions of gallons of waste generated by factory farms won’t go away when floodwaters disappear.”
Additional health risks stem from so many of the state’s tens of millions of hogs, chickens and turkeys being housed in the storm’s path, creating the danger of mass mortalities and the hasty, unsafe disposal of carcasses.
As the storm approached, most of the farmers who live near the facilities probably evacuated, Dove told me, leaving the animals behind. “The water will go over the confinement buildings,” he said. “Most of those animals are gonna drown.” As flooding worsens on the North Carolina coast, no one I could reach has been able to observe firsthand what’s happening to the hogs—or to the hog-waste lagoons. Reconnaissance flights have been cancelled until weather conditions improve. But area environmentalists, whom I reached on Friday and Saturday, are deeply concerned about the situation.
North Carolina is home to one of the densest concentrations of hogs in the world — around 9 million pigs are raised on 2,100 farms in the state. Duplin, with more than 2 million animals, is the top hog-producing county in the country. Large-scale farms store their animal waste in open-air pits where the solid material sinks to the bottom, revealing a nutrient-rich liquid that is then sprayed as fertilizer onto fields.
“We are expecting a lot of rain. That’s our main concern,” said Matthew Carter, who manages 9,000 head of hog spread out on three farms in Duplin County and also works as a technician for the county’s soil and water unit. “I’ve been spraying within state limits for the last several days, and I’ve gotten my lagoons down so that I have 48 inches of space, which should be plenty.”
Which is to say, large amounts of the waste were sprayed across fields consistently for a few days prior to the arrival of Florence. I assume the hope being that it would be washed out through regular drainage from the inevitable flooding. However, this practice has been criticized by environmental groups in the past. Though it could also result in vast bodies of standing water becoming prime vectors for disease and bacteria including nearby waterways.
But environmentalists and farmers are most concerned about a repeat of Hurricane Floyd. That storm dumped 20 inches of rain and caused widespread flooding, rupturing of manure lagoons, and the death of 28,000 hogs. Samples taken after Hurricane Floyd found dangerous levels of illness-causing bacteria in some drinking water sources for weeks after the event.
There are some more imitate concerns strangely enough, Duke Energy said the collapse of a coal ash landfill at the L.V. Sutton Power Station near Wilmington, North Carolina, is an “on-going situation,” with an unknown amount of potentially contaminated storm water flowing into a nearby lake. At a different power plant near Goldsboro, three old coal ash dumps capped with soil were inundated by the Neuse River.
The company initially estimated Saturday that about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the landfill, enough to fill about 180 dump trucks. Sheehan said Sunday that estimate could be revised after further scrutiny.
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer lined landfills constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
At the W. H. Weatherspoon Power Station near Lumberton, flooding from a nearby swamp was flowing into the plant’s cooling pond. The Lumber River is expected to crest at more than 12 feet (3.3 meters) above flood stage late Sunday, putting floodwaters near the top of the earthen dike containing the plant’s coal ash dump.
While these issues will likely be under-reported due to industry pressure. It is interesting to note this as yet another example of a situation where nuclear power has been safer for both the environment and local residents, than coal power. there are 2 nuclear power plants in the area. The Brunswick nuclear station, which was directly in the path of the hurricane, and is located 30 miles south of Wilmington as well as the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in New Hill, a town farther inland about 23 miles from Raleigh. No incidents have been reported.