Release of Swine Waste Management General Permit raises concerns

RALEIGH -- The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's recent release of the state’s Swine Waste Management General Permit has left some environmental agencies unsatisfied. The department governs the disposal of the nearly 9.5 billion gallons of hog waste generated each year at the state’s industrial swine operations.

“The additional transparency and monitoring in this permit are an important and long overdue step forward,” said Will Hendrick, staff attorney at Waterkeeper Alliance and manager of the North Carolina Pure Farms Pure Waters campaign in a statement.

“However, the revised permit represents incremental change but the system needs to be fundamentally changed. An expert commission determined more than 20 years ago that the lagoon and sprayfield system was outdated. The need for change has grown dramatically since as we’ve learned more about how this waste management system threatens North Carolina communities and our environment, especially in light of increasingly frequent and severe storms.”

The granted permit comes at a tumultuous time for the North Carolina hog industry, in particular Smithfield Foods, which has recently faced a number of nuisance ordinance lawsuits from their neighbors.

Last month more damages were awarded in what has become a long line of lawsuits against the pork producers. Smithfield Foods has lost all five cases over nuisance allegations in federal district court with total damages reaching more than $550 million.

While the national focus of this issue has mainly surrounded the hog farm industry, last week an Associated Press story reported ongoing issues of cattle manure possibly seeping into private residents’ well water in Kewaunee County, Wisconsin.

“Scientists are one step closer to understanding how dangerous contaminants from fecal matter are entering private wells in a northeastern Wisconsin county,” the article stated. “Kewaunee County, where cattle outnumber people nearly 5 to 1, is a focal point in Wisconsin over whether local, state and federal governments adequately protect drinking water from manure from dairy farms.”

Studies show that contamination of wells could be due to leakage from the lagoons, as well as the tendency of farmers to spread liquid manure close to the location of their pits.

“The general permit is glaringly devoid of concerns for environmental justice,” said Katy Langley Hunt, Lower Neuse riverkeeper in a statement. “The EPA expressed concern in 2017 that these operations have a disparate impact on communities of color. We know the communities most affected by this industry breathe air laden with toxic emissions from industrial hog operations, suffer with well water tainted by nitrates from the operations, and live shorter lives. 

"North Carolina’s DEQ is able to deny permit renewals based on that disparate impact, yet it did not. Instead, it’s allowing a blatantly unfair and dangerous industry to manage waste in the exact same way, in the exact same places that it always has, unfairly and illegally extracting a disproportionate cost from communities of color.”

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