North Carolinians: Tell DEQ to Improve Its Hog Permit

Most of the state's hog facilities use a primitive waste management system that exposes nearby residents to noxious odors, dangerous gases, water pollutants, and superbugs. But now we have a chance to clean up this mess.

Hog barn

By USGS (Public Domain

North Carolina is home to 2,200 industrial hog facilities confining more than nine million hogs. Most of these facilities use a primitive and dangerous system to handle the 60-plus million pounds of swine manure produced every day: The waste sits in giant open cesspools and then operators will spray it, untreated, onto land when the cesspools get too full. This spraying exposes nearby residents to noxious odors, dangerous gases, water pollutants, and superbugs. This pollution contaminates many of the famous North Carolina rivers, like the Cape Fear River, and runs down to the coast.

This has been going on for decades, but now we have a chance to clean up this mess.

From now until March 4, 2019, North Carolina is collecting comments on its draft General Permit for Swine Operations. The General Permit contains a single set of conditions that appear in the permits for hog operations in the state. Therefore, this permit is important because those conditions dictate what practices are allowed at the vast majority of hog operations in the state. This is our chance to push DEQ to (1) modernize the permit, (2) eliminate primitive lagoons and sprayfields, and (3) move toward a system that includes adequate safeguards for all neighbors, drinking water, and the environment.

There will also be public hearings in Kenansville (February 19) and Statesville (February 26), where the public can tell DEQ what it should do to improve this permit.

We thank DEQ for the steps it has already taken in its Draft Permit to improve the hog permit, and we will continue to advocate for a final permit that provides adequate safeguards. Based on the draft of the permit that we’ve seen, here are some of the things that DEQ needs to do to improve it.

  • Expand groundwater-monitoring requirements. The Draft Permit requires (for the first time) groundwater monitoring at lagoons in the 100-year floodplain. This is an important step in the right direction, but DEQ needs to expand this requirement to include other facilities, such as those that have had other problems or risk factors for polluting groundwater.  
  • Improve transparency. DEQ took some important steps in the Draft Permit toward a transparent system of safeguards that allow the public to find out critical information about these facilities, but the agency needs to go further in the final permit. In the final version, DEQ should require facilities to submit to the agency records about how they dispose of animals that die on-site. DEQ should require facilities to let the public know what they are putting into the air and water.
  • Shorten the duration of the permit. DEQ is proposing that the new permit be in place for another five years, which means that the antiquated lagoon and sprayfield system would also operate for at least another five years. DEQ needs to shorten the permit duration to two years to allow for a transition to modernized facilities (which DEQ should also require).
  • Take environmental injustice/cumulative impacts into account in permitting decisions. In May 2018, DEQ promised to develop an environmental justice mapping tool that could identify communities most vulnerable to hog pollution and incorporate this information it into the permitting process to protect those populations. DEQ has indicated that this tool will not be ready in time to use it for decisions with this. To correct this, DEQ should add a provision to the permit that takes cumulative impacts of multiple sources of pollution into account. And DEQ should shorten the duration of the permit to two years so that it can implement its environmental justice tool fully as soon as it is ready.

North Carolinians should not miss this chance to tell the state how to clean up the drinking water, rivers, and air around hog facilities.

About the Authors

Valerie Baron

Staff Attorney, Sustainable Agriculture and Antibiotics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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