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Pig Excrement Spills Into North Carolina Floodwater

North Carolina is a state with more hogs than New York City has humans, and in the wake of Hurricane Florence, it now has swells of pig poop swamping the sides of lagoons meant to hold it. Of the 4,000 lagoons across the state, two have confirmed breaches; seven have reported discharges; four are completely flooded and 14 are close to overflowing — and Pork Council officials say they’re worried about what more could happen before the flooding subsides, Bloomberg reports.

Humans’ sewage plants are also flooded — Wilmington’s Cape Fear Public Utility said 5.25 million gallons of partially treated waste water had spewed over when two generators at the plant failed — and between hogs and human waste, the discharge is disease waiting to happen, health officials said. As if things couldn’t get worse, poultry producer Sanderson Farms Inc. estimates they’ve lost 1.7 million chickens at 60 chicken houses, with another 30 farms of 211,000 chickens each in danger of being lost, too.

Such is the inconvenient truth of what can happen with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). But, it doesn’t matter whether you live in a coastal ocean area or on the banks of Lake Erie near Toledo or simply have a home on a hill surrounded by low-lying areas, when flooding happens, your water supply is always in danger. When you add animal feces from open-air lagoons to the picture, it’s a disaster of a magnitude you can only imagine waiting to happen — and this type of pollution is not new to North Carolina. It’s happened again and again and again with other hurricanes.

Tragically, pig poop or cow poop or chicken poop (pick your CAFO) isn’t the only problem when you’re talking about agricultural pollution, as runoff from synthetic chemical fertilizers in farming areas quickly adds to the growth of toxic algae that occurs in waterways near these Big Ag productions. The fact is algae is growing so out of control in some areas of the U.S. that entire cities — Toledo is an example — have had to shut down their residential water supply.

Even in areas where algae blooms aren't apparent, nitrates from fertilizer runoff may still contaminate drinking water. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that removing nitrate from U.S. drinking water costs nearly $5 billion a year, which the industrial agriculture industry has been largely shielded from.

And this is costing more than just money: Researchers reviewed over 100 studies on the health effects of nitrates in drinking water and found multiple studies linked them to birth defects, bladder cancer and thyroid cancer.

The point is Big Ag claims operations like CAFOs and massive farming practices using chemicals and fertilizers are necessary to feed the world and keep us alive. But it’s a lie of mammoth proportions that is beginning to spill out as quickly and thickly as the manure spreading all over North Carolina now. The answer to this is twofold: First, you need to protect yourself and your own drinking water by installing filters on your water lines and tap.

But on a broader scale the real solution is to stop the source of pollution. Even small changes, like the use of cover crops, can help to prevent soil erosion while absorbing excess fertilizer. Iowa has a voluntary program like this in place to help control fertilizer runoff, but it's still in its beginning stages.

Better land-use management that utilizes cover crops and no-till practices, which address fertilizer runoff, along with dramatic reductions in synthetic fertilizer use, will also be necessary.

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