The hog industry, through a multi-million dollar public relations campaign, continues to shift the blame for water pollution away from itself to municipal sewage treatment plants. This hog
industry smokescreen not only misrepresents the relative contribution of municipalities to water pollution, but seriously understates the environmental problems associated with factory hog
farming in North Carolina.
Let's be fair; here are the facts:
Relative Contribution to Water Pollution: Agricultural runoff, including runoff from hog and other factory livestock operations, continues to be the biggest source of nutrient pollution in North Carolina. In fact, hog factories pour more nitrogen pollution into the coastal region through the air alone (as ammonia) than all of the municipal and industrial sources combined. In the Neuse River Basin, farm runoff contributes at least 54% 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 via atmospheric nitrogen from hog factories alone. Municipal plants, paper companies, and other industrial dischargers, while a problem, contribute only 24% of the nitrogen in the Neuse River.
Municipalities are subject to strict waste control technology requirements. The requirements, imposed under the federal Clean Water Act, have resulted in significant reductions in pollution from municipalities and other industrial polluters. In addition, human waste (i.e. municipal sludge) must be extensively treated and disinfected before it can be applied to the land. In contrast, hog factories are not subject to these strict technology requirements, nor do they treat or disinfect hog waste before it's applied to the land. Although the state legislature recently tightened limits even further on municipalities and other industrial sources that discharge into nutrient impaired waterways, no similar provisions have been made for wastes from hog factories.
Despite the pork industry's claims, municipal sewage treatment plants are significantly more regulated than factory hog farms. In fact, sewage treatment plants and other industrial polluters have been subject to strict state and federal requirements for decades. 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 municipalities. For example:
- Municipal sewage treatment plants are required to use the best available technologies to treat their waste to reduce water pollution. North Carolina hog farms don't have stringent
technology requirements and, in fact, hog waste management has changed little over the years.
- Municipalities must monitor their environmental performance and report any problems to the state. Hog farms have no obligation to monitor or report polluted runoff, discharges, or groundwater contamination. Instead, they are inspected by state officials only two times a year!
- Municipal sewage treatment plants are generally spread out over large geographic areas and are subject to strict limits on where they can be located. In contrast, hog factories are
bunched together, concentrated in only a handful of coastal counties. Thousands of existing hog factories remain exempt from local zoning--only the largest of the new hog factories are
subject to local zoning at all.
Violations: In its multi-million dollar public relations campaign, the pork industry suggests that fewer than 1% of factory farms have trouble complying with state environmental rules.
Let's set the record straight:
- In the first nine months of this year, state inspectors found 1,293 violations and deficiencies at hog factories. Over 900 of these violations were serious and included 86 discharges from
waste lagoons, 221 instances of applying too much waste on the land, 585 cases where waste lagoons were too full, and 8
cases where hog factories were in violation of state siting restrictions. Overapplication of waste on farm fields has been a chronic and serious problem because overapplied waste cannot
be absorbed by crops and ends up in groundwater and surface water (i.e., rivers and streams).
- Factory hog farms are inspected only twice a year! And before an inspection, state officials give the hog factory advanced notice that they are coming. Thus, actual number of violations
is surely much higher than state data indicate. Contrast this with municipal waste treatment plants that must monitor their waste continuously and promptly report all violations.
- Even hog factories that comply with all current rules still pollute the environment through unregulated emissions of ammonia and offensive odors. We now know that air emissions, alone,
from hog factories put more nitrogen into coastal North Carolina than all municipal and industrial sources combined.
Get more real facts on other myths.