Despite laws in place preventing newly established farms from spraying waste from manure lagoons once full, existing farms using this practice are still causing trouble in surrounding communities.
Cape Fear River Watch riverkeeper Kent Burdette initially reported to The Guardian that he was able to fly overhead and see at least 35 farms spraying their fields with waste. He sent in photographs to the Department of Environmental Quality, but was told it was not enough substantial evidence to prove anything incriminating.
When the farming industry boomed throughout the 1980s and 1990s, North Carolina’s farms housed around 9 million pigs in total, with farms in other states harboring around 60,000 additional animals. The pigs’ waste would be transmitted from their indoor resting places to lagoons outside, which would then be sprayed as fertilizer into crop fields once the lagoons exceeded waste capacity. In rough weather conditions, such as hurricanes, the waste would back up and seep past the farm’s walls into outside territories.
A ban on farm waste spraying was initiated in 2007 after being suspended ten years prior. The ban only targets new farms and does not impact those that have been well-established for decades.
Neighbors can smell the waste from their homes, which makes a large negative impact on their overall quality of living.
“It smells like a body that’s been decomposed for a month,” former Duplin County truck driver Rene Miller told The Guardian.
The North Carolina Medical Journal published two studies in 2014 and 2018 detailing how families located near pig farms have higher rates of contracting anemia, kidney disease and tuberculosis and have high chances of infant mortality. A spokesperson from Smithfield Foods told The Guardian that the health reports are an “exaggeration.”
The DEQ released 33 public complaints in North Carolina about this issue between 2008 and 2018. In April 2019, the organization stated that they investigated an additional 62 complaints into 11 industrial hog farms that were emptying waste into streams and ditches on their farms.
The Environmental Protection Agency conducted research of their own, surveying over 60 neighbors who live near pig farms and addressed all their complaints to the DEQ.
The DEQ posted other complaints publicly in late 2018 to early 2019, showing 138 more complaints and confirming over 60 of those violated spraying laws.
Some civilians have taken their neighboring farms’ activities to court, with five of them earning financial damages ranging from more than $100,000 to $473 million, although the larger amounts were reduced by the state.