After Florence, Farm Animal Death Toll Could Be in Millions

September 20, 2018

By Max Godnick

Florence may be over, but floodwaters from the hurricane are still wreaking havoc in North Carolina ー and not in just the usual ways.

The state's hog-waste lagoons, some of which are larger than Olympic swimming pools, are now either overflowing or in real danger of being breached. That poses an immediate danger to the surrounding communities ー and the planet as a whole.

"The potential for groundwater contamination is massive," said Zoë Schlanger, an environmental reporter at Quartz.

The storm, which was eventually downgraded to a tropical depression, caused at least 110 "reservoirs" to release their contents into the environment.

North Carolina is the second-largest hog-farming state in the country, with close to 10 million pigs producing about 10 billion gallons of manure each year. In the counties where most of the state's pork production takes place, hogs outnumber humans, each one producing two to five times more waste than people do each day.

Rain and floodwaters have rendered many of the affected facilities unreachable for the farmers eager to check on their livestock and assess the damage.

Schlanger said some areas still expect more flooding, which could worsen the already-rampant contamination.

"In certain places, it's going to get better. In certain places it's going to get worse," she said.

While there's nothing that can be done to contain the waste that's already been released, Schlanger said officials can prepare for the future by rethinking the industry's infrastructure.

After all, Schlanger said hog-waste has been a "daily health issue" for people in the state long before Florence.

One of the most-vulnerable counties is Duplin, where most of the farms in the state are located.

"They say even without the storm, the smell is horrendous," Schlanger said.

It's one of North Carolina's poorest counties and has a predominately black and Latino community, which she said poses a "very specific environmental justice issue."

But the problem isn't just with contamination ー there's also a significant economic impact.

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, over 3 million chickens and turkeys and 5,500 hogs drowned during Florenceー a significant loss in inventory for the thousands of farmers who rely on the animals for their livelihoods.

"This will be devastating mostly for the small family farmers who are contracted by much larger companies," Schlanger said. "Those farmers often take on a lot of debt to run these operations."

For full interview click here.