Pig poop fouling North Carolina streams; state permitting questioned.


Streams near large factory pig farms have high levels of bacteria. Health groups are raising a stink.

February 18, 2015

Brian Bienkowski
Environmental Health News

Few people know the pig business like North Carolina’s Don Webb.

Webb raised pigs in Wilson County, North Carolina, until, in the late 70s, residents told him the smell near his farms was unbearable. He tried some solutions. They didn’t work.

University of North Carolina
Waste from large, industrial pig farms is kept in lagoons. Researchers fear the system isn’t protecting state waterways.

“I was riding down the road and got to thinking of my own mother and father and what would I do if one of these was their homes [near the pig farms],” Webb said in his heavy Southern drawl. “So I got out of the business.”

Webb, 74, soon went from pig farmer to vocal critic. Over the past few decades he’s frequently done battle with the large pig farms in North Carolina over their waste management. He once took former state Sen. Wendell Murphy, owner of Murphy Farms and notorious for pushing industry-friendly laws, for a ride in his pickup truck to show him his farm’s impacts.

He brought the senator to a home where a woman lived with her husband, stricken with tuberculosis. Their home was a trailer. The couch had springs sticking out, Webb recalled.

The stench was noxious.

“She told Murphy ‘if you could please do anything to help us, I can’t put my clothes out sometimes and my grandchildren won’t visit me,’” Webb said.

Other neighbors Murphy visited had similar pleas.

“I was riding down the road and got to thinking of my own mother and father and what would I do if one of these was their homes. So I got out of the business.”-Don WebbThings haven’t changed much since that tour two decades ago. The battle in eastern North Carolina persists as health and environmental groups continue to pressure the state, the second leading pork producing state behind Iowa, to more strictly regulate large pig farms.

Meanwhile evidence continues to mount of the industry’s impact in the region: A study published in January concluded that streams near large industrial farms in eastern North Carolina are full of pig poop bacteria.

Donn Young/UNC
University of North Carolina epidemiologist Steve Wing

For those battling the state for more stringent regulations, it’s another knock against an industry that heavily impacts their lives.

“People just can’t ignore this,” said Naeema Muhammad, a co-director and community organizer at the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network. “The air stinks, the water is contaminated and property values are depleted.”

State permitting questioned

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources treats large swine farms – operations with thousands of pigs and up – as “non-discharge facilities,” exempt from state rules on having to monitor the waste they dump in rivers and streams. The case for that exemption is dubious, suggested Steve Wing, a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina who co-authored theJanuary study, published in “Science of the Total Environment.”

Satellite imagery from NAIP
Wing and colleagues tested waters in Duplin County, North Carolina.

“You have evidence of pig-specific bacteria in surface waters, next to industrial swine operations,” he said.

For about a year, from 2010 to 2011, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina tested water both upstream and downstream from fields in eastern North Carolina where pig poop from large factory farms is applied.

“You have evidence of pig-specific bacteria in surface waters, next to industrial swine operations.”-Steve Wing, University of North CarolinaThe farms generate so much waste that it would be too expensive to transport via pipeline or a truck, Wing said. So manure is dispersed via big pumps and sprayers that act like “a lawn sprinkler,” Wing said, and spread the slurry across fields.

The sprayers shower hundreds of gallons per minute (household lawn sprinklers average about two or three gallons per minute).

The highest concentrations were found “immediately downstream” of swine feedlot spray fields and in the spring and summer seasons, the authors wrote.

Of 187 samples, 40 percent exceeded state and federal water guidelines for fecal coliforms, harmful bacteria from animal feces.

Waterkeeper Alliance
A large pig farm and lagoon in eastern North Carolina.

In addition, 23 percent and 61 percent of the samples exceeded the water quality standards for E. coli and Enterococcus respectively, two other feces-derived bacteria that can hurt people when ingested.

Sampling took place in Duplin County, a place with more pigs than people: 2 million vs. 60,000. Wing and colleagues tested water from Goshen Swamp, a tributary of the Northeast Cape Fear River.

Big “cesspools”

But a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the study “seems to be inconclusive.”

“The information presented provides an indication of overall water quality in these [waters]; however, it is not an indication of a discharge of waste,” Drew Elliot, communications director for the department, wrote in an email after sharing the study with state water quality experts.

The department questioned whether the researchers analyses met the state’s water analysis requirements and pointed out that sources of such fecal pollution could include “any warm blooded animals and failing septic or sewage collection systems.”

But Wing’s study accounted for this: Since the fecal bacteria potentially could be from leaking residential septic tanks or other animals, Wing and colleagues tested markers in the bacteria and found the majority matched what would be found in pigs.

A spokesperson for Smithfield Foods agreed with the state’s critique. Smithfield’s subsidiary, Murphy-Brown LLC, is the world’s largest producer of pigs and headquartered in North Carolina.

“The information presented in this study does not accurately reflect waste management practices at Murphy-Brown, and unfairly vilifies North Carolina’s agricultural community,” Kathleen Kirkham, director of corporate communications, wrote in an email.

“The information presented provides an indication of overall water quality in these [waters]; however, it is not an indication of a discharge of waste.”-Drew Elliot, North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural ResourcesThe study is not able to “legitimately differentiate the type of feces in the river between swine, goose, deer or human that will also be there from the natural environment surrounding waterways,” she added.

North Carolina State University
JoAnne Burkholder, North Carolina State University.

Wing said the latter is a recurring industry argument and that the bacteria markers they used to pin the pollution on pigs were quite conclusive.

The National Pork Producers Council did not respond to multiple requests to comment for this article. A spokesman for the North Carolina Farm Bureau said the organization doesn’t “typically provide comment on academic studies.”

Wing’s study suggests that the methods for getting rid of animal waste from huge farms are not working.

“The farms hold the waste in lagoons, as the industry euphemistically calls them, which are big cesspools,” said JoAnne Burkholder, a professor and aquatic ecologist at North Carolina State University. The waste can run off from such areas and get into waterways.

The large farms are located in rural areas where many people use private wells. But due largely to a lack of funding, studies on groundwater effects of human health are rare, Burkholder said.

Poor, minorities most impacted

North Carolina environmental and health groups are fed up — not just about the farms’ impact, but who is most impacted.

“It seems that the industry goes into an area that they think is perfect for their needs: lots of land, and people without a voice and not many of them,” Burkholder said.

Naeema Muhammad (center) and other community leaders speaking at an EPA environmental justice event in 2012.

But Kirkham, Smithfield’s spokeswoman, said people from Smithfield are members of the community too.

“We live here, work here, and raise our families here. We have a vested interest in the health and well-being of these communities,” she wrote.

She said the company averages about two or three notices per year from neighbors concerned about the operation.

Duplin County, where Wing’s study took place, is 26 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, according to the US Census. Duplin’s median income is 25 percent lower than the rest of the state, and 26 percent of its residents live below the poverty line.

“It seems that the industry goes into an area that they think is perfect for their needs: lots of land, and people without a voice and not many of them.”-JoAnne Burkholder, North Carolina State UniversityEarthjustice – along with the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance – filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA against the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which states in part, “lax regulation of hog waste disposal discriminates against communities of color in eastern North Carolina.”

The complaint is a response to the state’s renewal of a general permit for large pig farms to continue operating and storing waste as they have been for years.

“We’ve been asking the state and our representatives for years to do something different about how this industry operates in the state of North Carolina,” Muhammad said. “It was an insult to the community and to the people of the state of North Carolina to renew those permits.”

The complaint was filed in September. Earthjustice is still waiting to hear back from the EPA.

“They’ve been dragging their feet,” said Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, senior associate attorney with Earthjustice.

Forced “bondage of feces”

Webb still makes his home in Wilson County, North Carolina. He works with a group called the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry to find solutions to the pig farm waste.

He’s animated when he talks about pig farming. But he strikes a somber tone when he recalls the people impacted.

“The woman taking care of her husband with tuberculosis? She died. Her husband died. They were forced to live years in the bondage of feces and flies,” Webb said.

“So a rich man can have hogs.”

EHN welcomes republication of our stories, but we require that publications include the author’s name and Environmental Health News at the top of the piece, along with a link back to EHN’s version.

For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at

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Photo: Associated Press

Untested chemicals are everywhere, thanks to a 39-year-old US law. Will the Senate finally act?


Many chemicals that are restricted or banned in Europe remain in use – and in some cases, untested – in the US, thanks to federal regulations that haven’t been updated since 1976. A new bill to overhaul the law is expected this spring.

Photo: Associated Press

A fire burns Monday, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. John Raby/AP

Train Derailment In West Virginia Sends Oil Tanker Into River


A train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in southern West Virginia on Monday, sending at least one into the Kanawha River, igniting at least 14 tankers and sparking a house fire, officials said.

A fire burns Monday, after a train derailment near Charleston, W.Va. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene. John Raby/AP

One person was being treated for potential inhalation issues, but no other injuries were reported, according to a news release from CSX, the train company. Nearby residents were told to evacuate as state emergency response and environmental officials headed to the scene about 30 miles southeast of Charleston.


Photo credit: Simon Wheeler, Press & Sun Bulletin

IBM, Endicott residents to settle environmental lawsuit


(WBNG Binghamton) An agreement in principle has been reached between IBM and residents in Endicott who suffered injuries as a result of environmental contamination caused, at least in part, by the computer manufacturer at its North Street facility.

The agreement was announced via a joint statement late Tuesday evening. Both parties began discussions last July, per the request of state Supreme Court Justice Justice Ferrous D. Lebous after years of litigation that began in 2008.

Read more and view video content at

Photo credit: Simon Wheeler, Press & Sun Bulletin

Fracking in PA Image

High levels of benzene found in fracking waste water – LA Times


Hoping to better understand the health effects of oil fracking, the state in 2013 ordered oil companies to test the chemical-laden waste water extracted from wells.

Data culled from the first year of those tests found significant concentrations of the human carcinogen benzene in this so-called “flowback fluid.” In some cases, the fracking waste liquid, which is frequently reinjected into groundwater, contained benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe.

The testing results from hundreds of wells showed, on average, benzene levels 700 times higher than federal standards allow, according to a Times analysis of the state data.

Read More


Toxic Chocolate Valentine Surprise Hershey’s, See’s Candies, Mars, and Others – Toxic Metals Found


OAKLAND, CA – February 11, 2015 – Consumer health watchdog As You Sow filed notices of legal action today against Hershey’s, See’s Candies, and Mars. The notices allege violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act for failure to warn consumers of cadmium in the companies’ chocolate products.

As You Sow previously initiated legal action against an additional 13 chocolate manufacturers, including Godiva, Ghirardelli, Lindt, Green and Black’s, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Earth Circle Organics, Moonstruck, Theo, and Vosges, for failure to warn of lead and/or cadmium in their chocolate products.

Lead exposure has been a significant public health issue for decades and is associated with neurological impairment, such as learning disabilities and lower IQ, even at low levels. “No amount of lead ingestion is ‘safe’ for children,” commented Sean Palfrey, MD, a practicing pediatrician and professor of Pediatrics and Public Health at Boston University School of Medicine. “Pregnant women and young children with developing brains in particular should avoid any ingestion of lead.”

Chronic exposure to cadmium has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage in humans. Children are more susceptible to exposure effects from low doses of cadmium over time. Animal studies have associated cadmium exposure with decreased birth weight, neurobehavioral problems, and male reproductive harm.

California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act requires manufacturers to warn consumers if their products contain chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. Testing commissioned by As You Sow and conducted at an independent laboratory, indicates that the chocolate products named in the legal notices contain lead, cadmium, or both, and fail to provide the required warning to consumers.

“Consumers need to know that chocolate may contain heavy metals,” said Eleanne van Vliet, MPH, As You Sow’s Toxic Chemical Research Director. “Since lead and cadmium accumulate in the body over time, even small amounts should be avoided.”

“Nobody expects heavy metals in their chocolate,” said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. “By issuing these notices, we hope to convince chocolate manufacturers to either remove or reduce heavy metals in their products through sound supply chain practices, or provide warnings so consumers can make their own choices about whether to consume the products.”
For twenty years, As You Sow has been one of the leading enforcers of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act with enforcement actions that have resulted in removal of lead from children’s jewelry, formaldehyde from portable classrooms, lead-containing baby powder from stores, and the reproductive toxin toluene, from nail polish.

# # #
CONTACT: Stephenie Hendricks, (415) 299-9510,
Eleanne Van Vliet, (510) 735-8154,
Andrew Behar, (510) 735-8151,
As You Sow is a nonprofit organization that promotes environmental and social corporate responsibility through shareholder advocacy, coalition building, and innovative legal strategies. For more information visit


Don’t Frack Denver campaign launch


The Don’t Frack Denver campaign has launched! A diverse coalition of faith leaders, racial and social justice groups, businesses, labor, breweries, and environmental groups are spearheading this effort and calling for a moratorium on fracking in Colorado’s most populous city.

As a heavily fracked state and as a swing state, this effort will have major implications on state and national politics here in the U.S. More details on the campaign here:

Here are some photos from the incredible media event yesterday:

Safeguard America Resources

Southern Community Groups Call for the Right to Say No to Natural Gas Facilities


Campaign to Safeguard America’s Resources Today community groups in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia called for the establishment of local veto power over natural gas extraction, transport and use. At rallies, marches and other public events extending from Floyd, Virginia, across North Carolina to Valdosta, Georgia, people joined in a chorus of protests against pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, hydrofracking wells and waste dumps and for the restoration of property rights and local control over energy policy in the Southeast.

Lou Zeller, Executive Director of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said, “Today we launch the campaign to Safeguard America’s Resources because of our nation’s dangerous reliance on fossil fuel, including natural gas, which pollutes the air and water. But we also see a parallel danger to our communities, to our society and to our democracy from a dominant oil and gas industry.”

At press conferences in county courthouses, community buildings, a university and a small church, League chapters called for action to halt natural gas facilities in their communities. Following the speeches, they joined caravans and parades to focus public opposition at the local government level. Events across the region echoed the twin themes of danger and opportunity.

Kim McCall, Secretary of the Concerned Citizens of Richmond County, North Carolina, spoke against hydro-fracking and the expansion of Duke Energy’s natural gas power plant in Hamlet. She said, “We are petitioning local governments for the ability to veto projects that threaten our homes, our families and our neighbors.” The group has petitioned EPA to deny the air permit to increase toxic air pollution by 36% from the combustion turbine electric power plant in her backyard.

To launch their campaign in Lee County, North Carolina, members of EnvironmentaLEE held a prayer vigil and rally at Mount Calvary Baptist Church, which is located in front of the brickyard in Sanford where the dumping 8 million tons of Duke Energy’s toxic coal ash is proposed. Deb Hall, a member of EnvironmentaLEE, said, “We are already ground zero for fracking, and the North Carolina General Assembly stripped local governments of their ability to control fracking and coal ash dumping. This threatens our health, the environment, community self-determination, and property rights.”

Mark Laity-Snyder, a founding member of Preserve Franklin county, joined others carrying black coffins in a caravan to Floyd, Virginia. He said, “We chose a coffin to represent the loss of a basic American right, the right to be secure in our homes without private companies taking our land.” Jenny Chapman, from nearby Preserve Bent Mountain, said, “For a corporation like Mountain Valley Pipeline to override the rights of private citizens to their land, safety and quality of life is unacceptable.”

Pat Hill, co-founder of Person County PRIDE in Roxboro, North Carolina, said, “My husband and I live next to the Republic mega-dump. We want to have a voice in protecting our water and air quality because we live with it every day.” She continued, “The toxic wastes deposited here endanger our health and the health of our neighbors. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead and many other poisons. Because hydrofracking uses secret contaminants, it could have an unknown number of dangerous compounds.”

Michael G. Noll, President of Wiregrass Activists for Clean Energy in Valdosta, Georgia, sounded a note of hope, saying, “This is the beginning of a new era, where we see the unified efforts of communities across the nation to safeguard America’s resources, to wean ourselves of fossil fuels, and to protect the unalienable rights of citizens to clean water and air. I am convinced that safe and renewable sources of energy like solar and wind will be the lunar landing of our generation.”

Mara Robbins, Virginia Campaign Coordinator for the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and organizer of the Floyd March and Demonstration, said, “We chose to have this action here because we stand in solidarity with all the counties that are resisting the threat of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.” She pointed to many different communities in three states that are calling for community-level veto power over fossil fuel projects. Referring to her success in pushing the pipeline route out of her home county, she said, “Though Floyd is not in the line of fire at the moment, we claim the right to say NO to dangerous proposals that utilize eminent domain over the wishes of the people. And we think all communities deserve that right.”

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League was founded in 1984. The organization has a thirty-year track record of victories over polluting facilities.

Oakland Protestfeb82015

We did it! Biggest Anti-Fracking Demonstration in U.S. History!


So a bunch of concerned citizens of all stripes came out to Oakland yesterday to talk some fracking sense.


More specifically, according to‘s count, over 8,000 of us marched…

Read more and see many more pictures at The Daily Kos.