Environmental groups are watching dozens of lagoons of swine waste stored directly in Hurricane Dorian’s path in North Carolina with growing trepidation, fearful that a breach will release millions of gallons of manure.
North Carolina is the nation’s second-largest pork-producing state, home to about 9 million pigs, with many farms located in the state’s low-lying eastern coastal plain.
Last year, Hurricane Florence caused dozens of swine manure lagoons to overflow or breach, sending thousands of cubic feet of waste swirling into flood waters, according to the Environmental Working Group, an environmental organization.
“Despite all the impacts we saw last year, nothing’s really changed,” said Sarah Graddy, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based group. “The concern is we will see something that happened with Florence where dozens and dozens of swine operations overflowed and or breached.”
A release of swine waste can contaminate drinking water systems with e.coli and other pathogens and lead to toxic algae blooms. And it’s not just pig poop that is of concern. North Carolina’s coastal plain is home to significant amounts of poultry farms that were impacted by Florence’s flooding last year as well, according to environmental groups.
“I think we could have severe water contamination, we could have fish kills, we could increased levels of fecal mater in the water making people sick,” said Drew Ball, state director for Environmental North Carolina, another environmental group. “Sadly, we’ve seen no serious significant movement on the issue.”
The National Pork Producers Council, a trade group, disputes that North Carolina’s swine lagoons aren’t prepared to weather Dorian and said the claims were motivated by environmental animosity toward the industry’s presence on the state’s coast.
Michael Formica, an assistant vice president with the council, said most of the state’s lagoons have been raised higher than required. He added Dorian isn’t expected to create as much flooding as Florence, which dropped 40 inches of rain some places. More than 98% of North Carolina’s 3,300 active lagoons did not experience significant issues during Florence, the group added, citing a report from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.
“The lagoons are designed to handle storms of this nature,” Formica said. “They are more than capable of handling this.”
Dorian is forecast to move near or over the coast of North Carolina, and the coastal Carolinas may get 6 to 12 inches of rain, with 15 inches in isolated areas, and a storm surge as high as 7 feet.
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