Op-Ed

NC hog farm neighbors seek relief from waste

BY ELSIE HERRING

In this 1999 file photo, black flood waters from the Neuse River surrounds a hog waste lagoon as flooding from Hurricane Floyd engulfed eastern North Carolina. Lagoon flooding on a smaller scale occurred during Hurricane Matthew.
In this 1999 file photo, black flood waters from the Neuse River surrounds a hog waste lagoon as flooding from Hurricane Floyd engulfed eastern North Carolina. Lagoon flooding on a smaller scale occurred during Hurricane Matthew. Mel Nathanson

News coverage of Hurricane Matthew has missed something important: the voices of people like me, who live next-door to industrial swine facilities and the massive open pits of hog feces and urine that the industry calls “lagoons.”

I am a black woman in Duplin County, which is known as the “hog capital of the world” because it is home to more than 2 million confined pigs. I live on land that has been in my family for more than 100 years. My family, neighbors and I have been held prisoner in our own homes by the unbearable stench from the multiple industrial hog operations within a quarter mile of my community.

One facility sprays hog manure on a field less than a dozen feet from my front door. My family and I can’t dry our clothes on a clothesline anymore, because they would be covered with manure. We can’t garden or hold cookouts with family and friends, because the smell and particles in the air burn our eyes and make us gag. We can’t fish or swim in the rivers and streams near us because they’re polluted with hog manure, and we can’t drink or wash with water from our shallow wells.

I support family farmers, but the multi-billion-dollar, multi-national corporation that owns 80 percent of the pigs in North Carolina is putting my family at risk.

For decades, we have tried to get our local and state agencies, including the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality or DEQ, to protect our community from industrial swine facilities. In the 1990s, Hurricanes Fran, Bonnie, and Floyd drowned pigs, flooded industry lagoons, and contaminated our water, but DEQ renewed the permits for swine facilities in the floodplains anyway where they are especially likely to hurt poor black, Latino and Native American residents. That was wrong. Now, Hurricane Matthew has caused the same problems all over again and our voices still aren’t being heard.

Elsie Herring of Wallace is part of complaint filed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking more protections for neighbors of hog farm operations.

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