North Carolina's Hog Waste Lagoons: A Public Health Time Bomb

June 10, 1999

North Carolina’s more than 3800 open-pit hog waste lagoons are contaminating the state’s drinking water, polluting its air and streams, and threatening the state’s economy according to a report released today by the North Carolina Environmental Defense Fund (NCEDF). The report, North Carolina’s Hog Lagoons: Pitting Pork Waste Against Public Health and Environment, details how the primitive system used to treat the 19 million tons of hog waste produced annually in North Carolina is threatening the state’s economy, public health and environment.

“The state’s moratorium on new hog factories ends in 82 days. We have abundant evidence that the old system of lagoons and sprayfields is damaging public health and the environment. Governor Hunt put forward a compelling and sound plan, but seven weeks later the legislature has not acted. The state cannot afford to wait any longer to address hog operations,” said Dan Whittle, EDF attorney. “North Carolinians want, and deserve, immediate action from the legislature.”

“Atmospheric pollution and runoff resulting from hog operations in eastern North Carolina have substantially increased nitrogen pollution in the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, waters already saturated with more nitrogen than they can handle,” said EDF scientist Dr. Joe Rudek. “These waters are considered among the nation’s premier fishing grounds and an essential draw for North Carolina’s $2 billion coastal tourism industry.”

The report highlights the danger posed by the nearly 550 abandoned lagoons in North Carolina. Abandoned hog waste lagoons often contain sludge laden with high levels of nutrient and heavy metal pollutants that have accumulated over the lifetime of the hog-raising operation. “Hog operators have little incentive to clean up abandoned lagoons because state law sets no time limit for when ‘inactive’ lagoons must be cleaned up and closed,” said Rudek.

NCEDF today joined with the Sierra Club, Conservation Council/NC, NC Wildlife Federation, and the Southern Environmental Law Center in calling on the state legislature to adopt a firm plan to solve hog waste problems before a moratorium on new hog factories ends on September 1, 1999. The coalition endorsed the report’s detailed recommendations to solve the problems caused by hog waste lagoons, including:

  • Adoption of permanent environmental and health-based performance standards for new and existing hog operations.
  • Extension of the legislature’s moratorium until a plan is adopted and underway to eliminate open-air lagoons and aerial sprayfields.
  • Measurable improvements to current hog operations.
  • Closing and proper cleaning of abandoned lagoons within two years.
  • Ending the “pork barrel double standard” and requiring large corporate hog producers to share responsibility and liability with small hog farmers for meeting all environmental laws. Currently large companies are not penalized in a meaningful way if there is an environmental violation.