Sep 13, 2018

Hog Waste Lagoons, Coal Ash Pits Pose Threat to Water Quality

Hog farmers in the Carolina’s hurry to lower wastewater lagoons and in anticipation of Hurricane Florence. Coal ash pits remain a threat

Hog waste and coal ash pits pose threat to water quality as Hurricane Florence looms
Hog waste and coal ash pits pose threat to water quality as Hurricane Florence looms

Hog farmers near the North Carolina coast have been hurrying to lower waste pools as Hurricane Florence nears the East Coast. The open-air waste lagoons pose a risk to water quality if hurricane rains cause the pools to overflow, as reported by NPR. While most of the hog houses themselves are safe from flooding, the paths leading to them and the waste lagoons face a direct threat, especially if heavy rains cause the sides of the lagoon walls to erode and collapse.

Hog farmers have been pumping liquid waste out of the lagoons and spraying fertilizer on nearby fields in order to create more room in the pits for potential rainfall. If hog farmers in impacted areas accomplish this, the waste lagoons should be able to handle almost 3 ft of rainfall, experts at North Carolina State University said. However, if the pits overflow or collapse, they pose a major threat to water quality.

“We try to pump down as much as we can, but after that, it’s kind of in God’s hands,” said Marlowe Vaughan of Ivy Spring Creek Farm in Goldboro, N.C., to NPR. “We’re kind of at the mercy of the storm.”

According to NPR, there used to be more hog farms in the North Carolina floodplain, but following Hurricane Floyd in 1999 the state bought out some hog farmers. Additionally, some waste lagoons flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 but no lagoon walls collapsed.

“We really just don’t know,” Vaughan said. “We have no idea what’s going to happen. So everybody’s very worried and very concerned. Please pray for us!”

According to NBC, North Carolina has roughly 2,100 industrial-scale pork farms containing more than 9 million hogs. Another concern comes in the form of more than two dozen coal ash pits operated by Duke Energy, that could potentially overflow and leak mercury, arsenic and lead into North Carolina drinking water systems. 

"This one is pretty scary," said Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University. "The environmental impacts will be from concentrated animal feeding operations and coal ash pits. Until the system gets flushed out, there's going to be a lot of junk in the water."