Carolina’s polluting industries

Casey Miles
Photo by Casey Gomez

As Hurricane Florence swept through North Carolina last week, the state’s infrastructure withstood flooding that it has not seen since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Unfortunately for North Carolina, much of the same preventable outcomes from Floyd are also happening with Florence. Most notably is the leaking of toxic chemicals into groundwater due to flooding of hog farms, coal ash ponds and chemical sites. 

It would not be a problem if these locations were not located on many of the waterways that snake their way through North Carolina. 

Each time a hurricane comes through there are always worries that the pig manure lagoons and coal ash ponds will flood, breach or otherwise leak, and each time nothing changes. Measures have been put in place to prevent the flooding of these facilities; even as recently as after Hurricane Matthew in 2016,  companies such as Duke Energy made changes to how their coal ash facilities work, but the main problem still persists.

The fact of the matter is that North Carolina is at an impasse: does it continue to support its largest industries like pork and coal, or does it prioritize the health of its citizens? 

The answer so far has been a continuation of the status quo. I understand that the state wants to prioritize the industries that bring the most money. What does not make sense is the continued lack of progress in regulation to prevent the spread of carcinogenic chemicals and animal waste.

According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, at least 110 hog lagoons have or are at risk of releasing their contents into the environment. Greater regulations need to be put in place to prevent this from continuing. 

One step has been taken: new hog lagoons cannot be created. Since 1999 no more lagoons have been opened in North Carolina. However, thousands of these lagoons still exist throughout the state, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and harmful chemicals into groundwater. It has been almost 20 years since more lagoons were prohibited from being open, but in that time the existing lagoons have continued to operate on outdated policy. 

Furthermore, nothing has been done to move these operations away from the waterways in the state. While costly for the farmers, moving the lagoons and the farms away from waterways is definitely in the best interest of the state. According to the North Carolina Pork Council, after Floyd hit the state paid for some of the farms to shut their doors permanently. While not a long term fix, some of the most egregious offenders in terms of location could be subsidized to help move their operations.

In the long term, the state will have to look at sustainable farming. 

The livestock industry is a large offender when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions and harmful runoff, so relocation and regulation are both musts. Manure has been a problem for centuries, wherever there is livestock their excrement follows. 

What needs to be done right now is to refocus and redouble efforts into new technologies regarding these hog lagoons. 

As for coal ash ponds, the best solution possible would be to move away from coal as a whole. While not feasible in this current political climate, I hope that gradually shifting viewpoints will move the state energy industry away from coal as a primary source of energy. 

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Based off of Floyd, Matthew and Florence, North Carolina should take a long hard look at how its cash pig and coal operate.