Pure Farms, Pure Water

Feb. 27 The Pure Farms, Pure Waters team and Waterkeepers across North Carolina are addressing the looming threat of PED, also known as Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, which is killing piglets and spreading fast to other farms across the United States.



RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA –Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers today called on the North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, to take immediate action necessary to protect human health and the environment in response the swine industry’s handling of dead hogs resulting from the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus outbreak in North Carolina. The groups ask Commissioner Troxler to immediately inform the public about the scope of the problem and human health risks associated improper handling and disposal of infected hog carcasses, and to take responsibility for ensuring that the massive hog mortality will be safely managed by the swine industry and supervised by the State.

The groups are also calling on Commissioner Troxler to request that Governor Pat McCrory declare a State of Emergency to deal with the PED mortality problem as contemplated in 2011 Animal Burial Guidelines developed by the State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. A State of Emergency would allow state and local authorities, including county health directors, to inspect industrialized swine facilities where the PED virus has left millions of dead and dying hogs, and implement emergency plans and requirements for safely handling swine mortality. Burying dead pigs in mass graves is common practice in mass casualty events, and Waterkeepers are concerned that in areas of the coastal plain, where most infected swine facilities are located, there is a high risk for contamination of shallow groundwater and nearby waterways, allowing for the transmission of bacteria and pathogens to drinking water supplies and recreational waters.

“While we understand that PED cannot be directly transmitted to humans, the massive numbers of pigs that have died from this virus pose a significant concern to the public health if not disposed of properly,” said Mr. Gray Jernigan, North Carolina-based staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “There is currently little to no government oversight of carcass disposal in the midst of this epidemic, and we are calling on the State to take action as authorized by law to protect the citizens of North Carolina.”

“I have seen first hand the unsafe disposal methods commonly employed on hog facilities. Hogs are commonly buried in low-lying areas adjacent to wetlands. They often sit out for days waiting to be transported for off-site disposal while blood and other fluids seep into the ground,” added Mr. Larry Baldwin, New Bern-based CAFO Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance.

The request to Commissioner Troxler was made in a letter released today that includes a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for additional information on the full scope of the PED outbreak, including numbers and locations of affected farms, total numbers of dead animals, the number and location of disposal sites, and a full and public accounting of the state’s response to the PED outbreak. Also included is a resolution passed in 2007 by the Association of Local County Health Directors expressing their concerns for the public health, and requesting appropriate reform of dangerous swine production practices. The swine industry sought to have this Resolution rescinded. That attempt was rejected by the Association.

Additionally, the organizations today released a new video that shows the impact of the PED virus on North Carolina farms, and illustrates the way diseased animals are being disposed of, which could threaten human health and the environment. Please click here to view this important video: http://youtu.be/jKYuw9ynePw

A 2013 study, “Investigating the Role of State and Local Health Departments in Addressing Public Health Concerns Related to Industrial Food Animal Production Sites,” by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, examined the role of local and state health departments in responding to and preventing community-driven concerns associated with animal production sites. This study developed when it was brought to the attention of two of the authors that community members may incorrectly assume that local health departments actively monitor and address potential concerns arising from large animal production sites.

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GOAL: Eliminate the impacts of factory farms on our waterways and our communities.

CAFOs stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, commonly known as factory farms. These operations cram thousands of animals into warehouse style buildings, creating one of the greatest sources of water pollution in the country, endangering public health and putting family farmers out of business.



Under the Clean Water Act, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are defined as point sources of pollution requiring them to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. NPDES permits may be issued by EPA or any state authorized by EPA to implement the NPDES program. Although North Carolina is authorized to issue NPDES permits, it has opted not to issue NPDES permits to poultry CAFOs.  Rather, North Carolina has developed its own water quality-permitting program. NCDENR treats all dry waste poultry facilities as “non-discharging” and generally does not require either a state or a federal NPDES permit.

The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce. It can contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used as additives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood, or silage lechate from corn feed.

Ground application of the manure is one of the most common disposal methods due to its low cost. When manure is applied too frequently or in too large a quantity to an area, nutrients overwhelm the absorptive capacity of the soil, and either run off or are leached into the groundwater. The excess production of manure and problems with storage or manure management can affect ground and surface water quality.

The agricultural sector, including CAFOs, is the leading contributor of pollutants to lakes, rivers, and resevoirs. Contamination in surface water can cause nitrates and other nutrients to build up. Ammonia is often found in surface waters surrounding CAFOs. Ammonia causes oxygen depletion from water, which itself can kill aquatic life. Ammonia also converts into nitrates which can cause nutrient overloads in surface waters. Nutrient over-enrichment causes algal blooms, or a rapid increase of algae growth in an aquatic environment. Some algal blooms can contain toxic algae and other microorganisms, including Pfiesteria, which has caused large fish kills in North Carolina.

In North Carolina, the Yadkin Pee Dee River basin supports about 1.6 million people, and over the next 25 years, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, that figure is expected to increase by fifty percent. Much of the anticipated growth will come from new development, as the state now ranks first in the nation in terms of projected economic expansion over the next quarter century. 

Wilkes County is one of the largest producers of poultry in the Eastern United States, and many of the county's farmers are poultry farmers for Tyson Foods.  According to Food and Water Watch, Wilkes County produced 12,484,993 “broiler” chickens in 2007 at three known CAFOs facilities. Wilkes County poultry farms are located within Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin and are discharging pollutants that are contributing to the impairment of the watershed. These facilities are virtually unregulated. According to FactoryFarmMap.org, factory-farmed broiler chickens in North Carolina has more than doubled from 34.7 million in 1997 to 79.7 million in 2007. The more than 12 million broiler chickens on factory farms in Wilkes County, NC produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from the Riverside, California metro area.

Want more information on this issue? Check out the following links.

Pure Farms, Pure Water Campaign by Waterkeeper Alliance

Where are these factory farms? 

How does the EPA define a CAFO?

CAFO, The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories


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