Rivers in eastern North Carolina, still swollen from Hurricane Matthew’s downpours, are flooding a region that teems with hog and poultry farms. As many as 5 million chickens and turkeys had already died as of Wednesday, Reuters reports. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has so far not released an estimate of hog deaths, but they could be steep.
That’s because North Carolina is home to one of the globe’s highest concentrations of pork production. Clustered mainly in five counties in the state’s southeast region,2,000 large-scale hog operations churn out about 10 million hogs annually, more than any other state except Iowa. And it’s not just animal corpses that are likely to stream out of inundated farms. Together with the state’s chicken houses, North Carolina’s hog barns generate 10 billion gallons of fecal waste annually, “enough to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools,” reports Environmental Working Group, much of it stored in open cesspools known as “lagoons.”
Hog manure is loaded with pathogenic bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant ones,antibiotic residues, and plenty of nitrate, which fouls drinking water and also feeds dead-zone-causing algae blooms. University of North Carolina researcher Steve Wing has spearheaded a rising tide of research documenting how the state’s hog facilities harm nearby residents, who are disproportionately low-income African Americans.