Federal complaint says NC hog farms hurt minorities

A federal complaint says North Carolina’s regulation of hog farms discriminates against minorities who, disproportionately, endure strong odors and contaminated water.

Three groups filed a complaint Wednesday that asks the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate what they say are violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The filing comes nearly 20 years after 25 million gallons of waste burst from an Onslow County hog farm into the New River, focusing public attention on a fast-growing industry.

Then and now, manure is washed out of the metal barns where hogs spend their brief lives into open pits called lagoons. Water from the lagoons is then sprayed onto fields, where grass absorbs its heavy nutrient loads.

A new, statewide animal waste permit for the swine industry, the subject of public hearings in late 2013, goes into effect Oct. 1. The complaint calls the standards in the permit inadequate and outdated.

The new permit “does not change things at all. It basically allows the industry to continue business as usual,” said Larry Baldwin of the Waterkeeper Alliance, one of the groups that wrote the EPA.

The state’s 2,200 to 2,300 industrial hog farms are often located in rural areas of Eastern North Carolina with high black, Hispanic and American Indian populations, the complaint says.

The smell alone is enough to chase nearby residents indoors, the groups say, and years of complaints haven’t brought improvements. “This is no way to treat your neighbor,” Baldwin said.

North Carolina’s environment agency says the new permit makes several key changes in how hog farms are regulated, including in how waste and soil are sampled and in standards to prevent lagoons from overflowing.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources had no comment on the complaint to the EPA, saying the department is reviewing it. The N.C. Pork Council also declined to comment.

The N.C. Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and the Waterkeeper Alliance filed the complaint.