Under the Dome

Environmentalists, hog-farm industry at odds over health of Black River

Black River
Black River Bruce Wilks

UPDATED New testing of a North Carolina river disputes a recent TV ad campaign defending the environmental record of hog farms, advocates say.

The Black River, with headwaters in Sampson County, was extensively tested and all samples were determined in a state-certified lab to exceed state standards for fecal coliform bacteria, which indicates animal waste. The environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance did the sampling in January and February. Previous tests have shown similar results in the Black River basin, the group says.

In January, N.C. Farm Families, a group funded by the state’s hog industry and others, launched a six-figure TV, radio, newspaper and social media ad campaign across the state putting a human face farmers and their concern for the environment. The ad stated the Black River is one of the cleanest in the state.

“This statement is simply untrue,” said Christian Breen of Waterkeeper Alliance in a statement. “The test results speak for themselves.”

Ed Emory of N.C. Farm Families said the recent tests were inaccurate, because the samples were collected after a storm when temporary spikes are common. He said his organization relies on the state Department of Environmental Quality’s determination that the Black River has excellent water quality, and The Nature Conservancy’s description of it as having “extraordinarily high water quality.”

Emory said, in an email, that federal regulators suggest water samples should be taken five different times over a 30-day period. Waterkeeper’s Breen said samples were taken on Jan. 21 and Feb. 11, at 10 locations at every major tributary of the Black River.

Sampson County is the heart of hog country in North Carolina, with about 2 million of the animals in industrialized facilities.

The farmers’ ad campaign was in response to billboard space Waterkeeper Alliance bought throughout the state last year claiming industrial factory farms were polluting waterways. The industry called it “a deliberate attack” on farm families.