North Carolina’s nearly 4,000 hog lagoons – the industry term for massive, open-air pits of treated hog waste – appear to be “holding out,” Bloomberg reports, despite at least 30 North Carolina rivers breaching their banks during the passage of Hurricane Florence.
Experts have been worried about the possibility of the lagoons overflowing following the hurricane’s torrential rainstorms, contaminating local water supplies.
“We are closely monitoring hog lagoons, and we haven’t had any reports of issues,” Governor Roy Cooper said in a media briefing Sunday.
According to the North Carolina Pork Council, as of Monday morning, “Hog farmers in North Carolina are watching with great concern the still-rising flood waters brought by the historic impact of Hurricane Florence.”
“Given that record-shattering flooding is forecast to persist for days, we expect additionally affected farms,” writes the Council.
The lack thus far of overtopping, or lagoon overflow, is thanks in part to a relatively dry summer, which allowed North Carolina farmers to spray the waste on their fields as fertilizer. Some experts, however, fear that local water will be contaminated regardless, due to runoff from these fields.
Hog waste contains harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella, and Lance Price, George Washington University public health professor and founder of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, tells Wired that North Carolina is also a “hot zone” for dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In 2016, during Hurricane Matthew, 14 of these lagoons flooded, and experts predicted that Florence could do even more damage. Professor Mark Sobsey of the environmental sciences department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill remains skeptical of the Governor’s claims that thus far it has not.
“If farmland is completely submerged, it’s a good chance swine farms are completely submerged,” Sobsey tells Bloomberg. “I’d like to see some evidence to show that somehow swine farms and lagoons have been magically spared as everything else fell under water.”
Hog farming is one of the biggest industries in North Carolina. The state is the second-largest pork producer in the nation and is home to nine million hogs, which produce more than 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste every year, according to a June 2016 report from the Waterkeeper Alliance.
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