New technology speeds hog cesspool cessation

Thirteen years after a big hog waste pool in Onslow County gushed through earthen walls, over roads and into tributaries of the New River and launched an effort to replace such open-air cesspools, the state has chosen three farms to install innovative technologies to replace the old way of storing animal wastes.

The N.C. General Assembly years ago ordered new technologies developed to replace stinking hog waste pits such as the one at Ocean View Farms that held the feces and urine of 10,000 hogs. The state's action this week has been a long time coming.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced Thursday that three Sampson County farm operations would receive money distributed from the N.C. Lagoon Conversion Program. Super Soils Systems USA, Tyndall Hog & Chicken Farm and Pope & Son, plus a fourth farm yet to be named, will be eligible for up to $500,000 each to convert open lagoons to new systems. They should protect ground and surface water, reduce air pollution and potentially produce marketable byproducts.

They replace a system in use for decades in which farmers store animal wastes in open pits and apply them to nearby fields in spraying operations. That system - once regarded as a considerable environmental improvement over simply dumping such wastes - has been associated with a variety of problems including an increase in childhood asthma in Eastern North Carolina.

One reason the conversion has taken so long is that the legislature sought economically feasible alternatives to lagoons. While a number of technologies have shown promise, scientists at N.C. State University, public-spirited farmers and environmental advocates are still working on ways to make them more economically viable.

The state assistance is a key part of that, Joe Rudek of Environmental Defense said in a news release. ``The hog farmers receiving the first grants are innovators. They deserve a salute for their commitment to finding ways to treat swine waste that will protect the state's air and water quality and the health of communities.''

The farm operations will create a central system to handle the wastes of 60,000 hogs, providing a promising way to finally begin the conversion of all the open-pit waste pools. The General Assembly deserves credit for its model program. It should continue its commitment to replacing hog lagoons and provide more incentives for farmers to install new technologies.