EPA Launches Investigation Into North Carolina Hog Operations - Modern Farmer

EPA Launches Investigation Into North Carolina Hog Operations

The state is allowing Smithfield Foods plants to produce biogas from hog waste lagoons—a decision that disproportionately affects the surrounding communities of color.

Hog waste lagoons are common on hog farms throughout North Carolina. The ponds collect the animals' feces and are used for waste management.
Photography courtesy of Waterkeeper Alliance Inc., Flickr.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has launched an investigation into a decision that would allow four North Carolina hog-feeding operations to produce biogas from hog waste lagoons—or large, swamp-like pits where farmers store the animals’ waste. 

The investigation, which began on Jan. 13, raises into question the environmental justice concerns of the North Carolina regulator’s move to allow the biogas operations and how it may disproportionately impact and pollute the surrounding communities of color, reports Inside Climate News.

The EPA probe comes after a September 2021 complaint by the Southern Environmental Law Center, stating that the biogas operations would pollute the air and groundwater in predominantly Black and Latinx communities; therefore, violating North Carolina environmental laws and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. 

The state’s plan, which would allow the use of hog waste digesting equipment to create the biogas, failed to address the disproportionate impact on the surrounding communities in its Department of Environmental Quality’s environmental justice report. The $500-million biogas production project would involve anaerobic digestors installed over the hog waste lagoons, which would capture methane to then be sold as natural gas. 

[RELATED: What Does the Future of Ethical Meat Look Like?]

The four facilities that received the permits—all owned by Smithfield Foods Inc.—are located in Dublin and Sampson counties, which are both home to high populations of Hispanic, Latinx and Black residents, according to census data. The counties also lead in the highest concentration of hog production facilities in the country, raising more than nine million hogs a year.  

Questions related to the environmental impact of hog waste collection are not new to the region. The North Carolina counties are prone to flooding, and after hurricanes and heavy rainfall caused lagoons to overflow on multiple occasions, Smithfield Foods Inc. agreed in 2000 to pay for research into a new, “environmentally effective and economically viable” way to deal with the hog waste, according to a 2018 ProPublica investigation. But 22 years later, and just three years from the expiration date of Smithfield’s financial deal, the open pit lagoons are still used and still a cause for environmental concern.

In response to environmental organizations’ and citizens’ concerns over the permits, on Oct. 22, 2021, James H. Johnson, who serves as the chair of the state’s Environmental Justice And Equity Advisory Board, sent a note to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality secretary Elizabeth Biser, calling for protection against hog waste pollution to be included within the permits and referring to the biogas produced in this process as “not a clean source of energy.”

In spite of the EPA’s decision to investigate the permits and backlash from concerned community members, North Carolina’s state regulator is on track for finalizing the permits in July of this year.

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2 years ago

‘lagoon’ is a BS word created by the propagandist polluters. ‘open shit and piss pool’ is more correct.

Al de
2 years ago

So this Chinese own company finds areas to pollute and locals get hurt for their profits

Nathan Dietz
2 years ago

Given. Mass factory farms are bs. or in this case ps. That being said, open lagoons are not helping anybody. Closed lagoons capturing the gas to use as a renewable fuel is the best possible practice.
Lagoon digesters help reduce the smell, remove methane, and create a better manure product.
Such factory farms should not even be in existance. But they are so the next best thing is to decrease their impact. This will most certainly lessen the impact on the surrounding community.

2 years ago
1 year ago

Covering a capturing biogas is one issue, my question is will the pipe line caring the biogas be monitored for leakage? Will the gas line run through or near homes, thus further impacting residence. What will become of the process used to spray the fecal matter on crops. Will that continue? Seems to me all of the pollutants should be addressed. I find it hard to believe that spraying feces in the air that will travel into peoples homes is something the EPA would allow.
Let’s address all aspects of the biohazards that continue at the Hog Farms.

2 years ago

How are they polluting if they capture methane gas and produce heat for processes and electricity? If they fail to capture now that is real pollution of the nasal smelling kind.