Saturday, March 16, 2013 12:23 AM
Hog waste spill investigated
Environmental advocates: Waste will flood Contentnea Creek
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
State regulators are investigating a reported hog waste spill that environmental groups say could contaminate the Contentnea Creek and Neuse River.
N.C. Division of Water Quality inspectors on Friday took water samples from an unnamed stream near a Murphy-Brown farm southeast of Stantonsburg. Anti-pollution advocate Don Webb reported the discharge to the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
"It will get into the Contentnea Creek,” Webb said. "There’s no doubt about it. This is bad. This is toxic waste.”
Inspectors said there appeared to be hog waste in the stream, but tests to detect fecal coliform bacteria and other contaminants would take days to complete.
A Wilson County resident, Webb is president of the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry, which lobbies for increased regulation of hog farms and the elimination of the lagoon and sprayfield system of treating hog waste.
Webb said he noticed water contaminated with hog feces and urine flowing from a stream near the farm while driving past a fishing camp he owns. The sow farm is off Sand Pit Road outside Stantonsburg and sits on the northern edge of Greene County.
"The biggest concern we have here is we’ve had a major leak from this hog farm and it’s coming down this stream,” said Larry Baldwin, concentrated animal feeding operation coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance. "It’s more contamination into the Neuse River, which already has its share of nutrient problems.”
Work crews pumped gallons of brown, viscous water from a stream on the right side of Sand Pit Road to a long trench on the left side of the road Friday. The trench appeared to run downstream from the sow farm.
Environmental advocates said the strong odor and purple or pink tint to the water shows that the stream is contaminated.
"That pink color is a specific indicator that there’s hog waste in there,” said Baldwin, who explained that an anaerobic sulfur bacteria found in hog feces produces the distinctive color.
Swine farms are required to operate under environmental performance standards including the elimination of animal waste discharge to surface water and groundwater through direct discharge, seepage and runoff, according to North Carolina law.
Farms that violate state performance standards could face regulatory and civil penalties.
"We are going to push for civil penalties,” Baldwin said. "What they would end up being is kind of hard to tell, but how do you put a price on the contamination this has put into this creek?”
The unnamed stream flows into the Contentnea Creek, which is a Neuse River tributary. North Carolina’s longest river, stretching about 275 miles from northern Wake County to the Pamlico Sound, the Neuse was ranked among the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers in 2007.
Hurricanes, hog waste and municipal wastewater are the top sources of pollution in the Neuse, which has sustained numerous fish kills. Baldwin said hog waste likely killed fish and other organisms in the narrow stream where advocates say it was discharged.
"The immediate impact is there’s probably not much living in this water right now,” Baldwin said.
The Waterkeeper Alliance and Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation are pushing for stricter controls on animal waste storage and treatment. Baldwin said a single hog farm produces the equivalent amount of waste as a small town.
"We are just inundating the environment of eastern North Carolina with more waste, more nutrients, more bacteria and potentially the pathogens that can be in this waste,” Baldwin said. "It’s not something the environment can handle.”
At least one family who lives near the unnamed stream outside Stantonsburg has noticed fewer fish in the water over the past two years. Randy Davis, who lives on Stancil Town Road, watched water quality inspectors sample the stream with his two children late Friday afternoon.
Ten-year-old Luke Davis said he enjoys fishing in the nearby streams. But as his skill as a young angler’s improved, his catches have only declined.
"There hasn’t been much fish to catch,” he said. "Some people say it’s because of Hurricane Irene. I’ve heard one or two people say it’s because of the pollution.”
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