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Experts: Climate Change Could Bring More Ag Pollution in NC

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Feces and urine from hogs on industrial farms are stored in large pools called lagoons. (Adobe Stock)
Feces and urine from hogs on industrial farms are stored in large pools called lagoons. (Adobe Stock)
January 25, 2021

TRENTON, N.C. -- State officials are investigating why one million gallons of hog waste spilled into an eastern North Carolina waterway last month.

The waste was being stored in a large lagoon, a common practice among the state's hog farms, but environmental advocates warn these types of events could become more frequent as climate change leads to increased rainfall in the region.

Lisa Sorg, environmental investigative reporter with NC Policy Watch, said most of the hog waste ended up in Tuckahoe Creek, whose waters run into Pamlico Sound, one of the state's most important estuaries and a popular recreational and commercial fishing area.

"And now there has to be something done to fix the lagoon," Sorg explained. "You can't really undo the contamination. We just have to hope the rainfall dilutes it. It's a very serious problem, especially in the coastal plain."

Sorg noted the farm had already been cited twice by state regulators, who cautioned the lagoon was at maximum capacity. Over the past few years, there have been at least three major hog-waste lagoon breakaways in the state, resulting in millions of gallons of hog feces, urine and bacteria polluting waterways.

Farms are heavily fined for lagoon breaches and can lose money if they're forced to reduce their hog population. But Sorg pointed out fines and fees don't solve looming environmental concerns related to heavy rainfall and extreme weather events, which can cause lagoons to overflow.

"Particularly where we're having more rain, where it's sandy soil, so the water travels quickly," Sorg outlined. "So the incentive would be to have stricter regulations."

Sorg added in the future, hog-waste lagoons could put more residents' drinking water at risk.

"There are a lot of people on the environmental side who would argue that we need to get rid of this antiquated hog lagoon and spray field system where these lagoons just sit there for years," Sorg concluded.

It's estimated at least 50 lagoons in the state overflowed in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in 2018.

North Carolina's hog- and pork-processing industry generates more than $10 billion in revenue annually, and supports more than 40,000 jobs.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC