Animal Writes
13 June 1999 Issue
The Truth About Hog Farms

Myth: Hog factories do not discharge waste into streams or rivers.

Fact: Hog factories discharge waste into streams and rivers in several ways.
First, state inspectors documented more than 115 illegal discharges from hog
waste lagoons in the first nine months of 1998. At least 32 of these discharges
reached surface waters. Second, hog waste runs off from farm fields into nearby
streams. So far in 1998, state inspectors have found that more than 200 hog
factories have sprayed too much waste on their land, virtually assuring that this
waste will leach into groundwater and runoff into nearby waterways. Hog
factories are not required to install buffers along streams to reduce the amount
of waste runoff. Third, waste can and does leak from lagoons and sprayfields
into shallow groundwater which, in turn, often flows through the ground into
nearby streams. Fourth, hog factories also emit into the air huge amounts of
unregulated ammonia nitrogen gas. This nitrogen then is redeposited onto the
landscape and waterways, choking rivers and estuaries already impaired by too
much nitrogen (Aneja, 1998; Rudek, 1997).

Myth: Hog factories do not threaten neighbors' drinking wells.

Fact: Hog factories can and do contaminate groundwater supplies -- and
neighbors' drinking wells -- from both leaky waste lagoons and sprayfields. For
example, a 1998 analysis by the state found that more than 10% of private wells
tested near factory hog and chicken farms were contaminated with excessive
levels of nitrates (Rudo, 1998). (Nitrates are toxic and can be especially
dangerous to infants.) Follow-up investigations have linked hog production
facilities with some of these contaminated wells; additional investigations are
ongoing to determine the extent to which hog farms are to blame for other
contaminated wells. No one knows just how much is leaking from the nearly
4,000 lagoons in North Carolina because hog factories are not required to
monitor leakage from lagoons.

Myth: Only a very few "bad actors" in the hog industry violate state water
quality laws. Most hog companies obey all laws and don't pollute.

Fact: In 1997, 88 percent of all factory hog farms had at least one permit or
waste management plan violation. Ten percent actually had water quality
violations. So far in 1998, state inspectors have found over 1,366 plan and
permit violations. Of these, state officials found waste being discharged from
115 waste lagoons, 599 lagoons that were too full, and 224 cases where
factories sprayed too much waste on already saturated fields (North Carolina
Department of Environment and Natural Resources; N.C. Dept. Env't. and Nat.
Res., 1998). These numbers surely underestimate the actual number of
problems because hog factories are only inspected twice a year!

Myth: Municipal sewage treatment plants cause more nutrient pollution
than hog factories.

Fact: Agricultural runoff, including runoff from hog and other factory livestock
operations, continues to be the number one source of nutrient pollution in North
Carolina and throughout much of the country. In fact, hog factories pour more
nitrogen pollution into the air (as ammonia) of the coastal region than all of the
municipal and industrial sources combined. In the Neuse River Basin, farm
runoff contributes at least 56% of the nitrogen loading to the river -- this doesn't
even include the estimated 2 million pounds of nitrogen delivered directly to the
Neuse estuary from air pollution from hog factories alone. Municipal plants, while
a problem, contribute no more than 24% of the nitrogen in the Neuse River
(Rudek, 1997).

Myth: Hog factories are being unfairly singled out for regulation.

Fact: Hog factories were virtually unregulated until 1993, when modest rules
were adopted requiring factory hog operations to develop waste management
plans. Since then, additional rules have been adopted for factory hog farms but
few of these are as far-reaching as the rules that apply to municipal sewage
treatment plants and other industrial polluters. In fact, sewage treatment plants
and other industrial polluters have been subject to state and federal require-
ments, including strict technology and monitoring requirements, for decades.
No laws exist to deal with the huge amount of ammonia sent into the air by hog
factories (about 168 million tons a year), while other industrial sources are
subject to strict controls on the emission of air pollutants.

Myth: Odor from hog factories is not really not that bad, and besides
there's no scientific basis supporting neighbors' claims of offensive

Fact: No one questions that odor is difficult to measure, but available research
confirms that there are offensive odors and air pollution associated with hog
factories. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued
warnings for several years to workers in animal confinement operations about
job-related asthma and the threat of death from manure-pit gases if ventilation
systems fail to work adequately. In Iowa, a study found neighbors of hog
facilities had respiratory problems similar to those of workers in hog confinement
operations (Donham, 1998). Studies also have found psychological stress in
residents near hog factories that is related to frequent exposure to intense hog
odors. A study of North Carolina residents who had lived by hog factories an
average of five years reported significantly more tension, depression, anger, and
fatigue than residents not exposed to hog odor at home (Schiffman, 1998).

In a 1998 report, a team of University of North Carolina researchers stated,
"We must undertake an aggressive initiative to address issues of odor nuisance
and potential health effects associated with odors" (U.N.C., Board of Governors,

The truth of this is best told by the people, like Karen Priest, a working mother
of two, whose Bladen County home is surrounded by hog factories. "I feel like
I'm raising my kids in one of those third world countries that we see some
celebrity on TV trying to raise money for because of the sewage running through
their village. It's been nearly four years since I opened the windows of my own
home" (6/11/98).

Myth: Environmental regulations are killing family farm jobs and causing
the hog industry to lose money in North Carolina.

Fact: Hog factories were virtually unregulated before 1993. Since the advent of
modest environmental regulations in 1993, the number of new factory hog farms
has risen steadily and the total number of hogs has almost doubled. The
industrialization of pork production, the trend toward vertical integration (i.e., a
small number of pork hog companies involved in more than one phase of hog
production), and other changes within the hog industry are the major reasons
that the number of individual, independent hog farms has decreased by more
than 50% since the late 1980s. Many of these farms went out of business
before 1993, before regulations were first put in place. According to recent news
stories, overproduction (too much pork on the market) has led to the lowest hog
prices in years, which, in turn, may force additional hog farmers out of business.

Myth: North Carolina is the single most regulated state for hogs in the

Fact: Absolutely not true. While in recent years North Carolina has adopted
some meaningful laws and regulations governing factory hog farms, other states
have adopted tighter controls.
Setbacks. South Carolina adopted much stricter limitations on how close hog
factories can be to homes, schools, drinking wells, and waterways. A number of
other states also have stricter setbacks, including Oklahoma which prohibits hog
factories from locating closer than three miles from a public water supply, one
mile of an ecologically important waterway, and up to two miles from a neighbor's
Liability. In Kentucky, major pork companies that own the hogs are held
liable for violations, but not so in North Carolina. Some states have laws
requiring pork producers to post bonds to ensure that abandoned waste
lagoons are cleaned up, but not North Carolina.
Permitting. Several states have stricter permitting requirements and
mandatory odor abatement planning requirements.
Standards. Other states are beginning to tighten up technology requirements
for hog factories. For example, Colorado now requires that waste lagoons be
covered to reduce odors and cut down on ammonia emissions to the air. Open-
air waste lagoons are the norm in North Carolina.

Myth: People living in eastern North Carolina counties think hog factories
are just fine the way they are.

Fact: The majority of North Carolina residents surveyed in 41 eastern counties
think that hog factories are hurting groundwater quality and property values, and
that an increase in hogs is bad for their quality of life. The majority also support
stronger regulations on hog producers (Edwards, 1998).

Myth: Hog factories are not disproportionately hurting low-income or black
North Carolinians.

Fact: A disproportionate number of hogs are produced in facilities located in
either low-income communities or communities with a significant black
population. The ten counties in North Carolina that produce the most hogs have
significantly more poor households and higher percentages of black residents
than the state overall. The number of poor households make up between 16%
and 27% of these counties' populations, for an average of 24%. The statewide
average for poor households in North Carolina is 14%. (A household is classified
as poor if the total income of that household is less than the year's poverty
level.) These same top ten counties in hog production have average black
populations of 40%, as compared to the state average of 22%. The individual
ten counties range from 25% to 59%. [Back]

Myth: The hog industry says that the fact that the pristine Black River runs
through Sampson County is evidence that hog farms don't pollute.

Fact: The main stem of the Black River is one of North Carolina's outstanding
rivers, not because nearby hog farms are clean, but because the naturally tea-
colored swamp waters which dominate the drainage into the river, giving the
river its name, also block the penetration of sunlight into the river waters.
Therefore, the river has conditions where algal blooms from nutrient pollution
are not likely to occur. Moreover, the Black is probably the best-protected river
in NC because the world famous wetlands that swathe the river provide superb
protection against water-borne ills. These wetlands also result in "blackwater"
freshwater conditions where algal blooms are less likely to occur.

Finally, the impact of nitrogen pollution from hog factories is felt in estuaries
where everything drains. (Estuaries are where saltwater and freshwater mix and
provide breeding grounds for fish and shellfish). The nitrogen moves downstream
from the Black River, often a great distance from where the pollution first washes
into the rivers and through the air. The great Neuse, Tar-Pamlico, and Chowan
estuaries and Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds accumulate all the pollution sent
down river. Thus, these important waters are where the most severe pollution
problems show up, and where a large portion of the East Coast's fish live the
early parts of their lives.

For more info on hog farming:

Get the Facts

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