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Smell of Discrimination: NC Citizens Ask EPA for Help

Swine waste flows into creeks in North Carolina, tainting the areas ground water supply. (Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc./Flickr)
Swine waste flows into creeks in North Carolina, tainting the areas ground water supply. (Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc./Flickr)
October 6, 2016

WARSAW, N.C. – Today more than 95,000 petitions will be delivered to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, asking the agency to investigate a civil rights complaint.

Specifically, environmental and community groups allege the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality violated the civil rights of citizens living near the state's hog industry.

Naeema Muhammad, executive director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, is among those in Washington.

"The air just stinks,” she stresses. “It just really stinks, and so people are unable to just breathe and walk outside.

“They don't hang their clothes on the lines anymore because the odor comes and it gets into the clothing."

Muhammed adds that people living near the industrial hog farms rarely open their doors and windows. She says businesses have been impacted in the area, among them a daycare that lost business after children got sick from the air.

The waste generated by the farms is stored in lagoons before spraying it across nearby fields.

By law the EPA has 180 days to complete a civil rights investigation once a complaint is accepted – this one being filed in 2014.

That places the EPA well past the deadline, and an agency representative says it is investigating the complaints, but offered no explanation for the delay.

Marianne Engelman Lado, a senior staff attorney with the public interest law organization Earthjustice, is among those representing the groups.

"As part of its investigation, we've invited EPA to come, smell the air, see the facility, see how people are living in proximity to these lagoons," she says.

Exposure to manure can cause eye irritation, coughing, and headaches for some residents.

Muhammed says because many of the communities around the farms are a high percentage of people of color, the industry is impacting generations of families.

Studies by multiple groups indicate there are alternative ways hog farms can dispose of waste generated by the farms, but the change in practice would come at an expense to the industry.

Late last month, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights published a report that found the EPA is failing to fulfill its civil rights responsibilities.


Stephanie Carson/Scott Herron, Public News Service - NC