Monday, March 18, 2013 11:37 PM
State confirms hog waste spill
Groups fear pollution will reach Contentnea Creek, Neuse River
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
Officials said Monday that a hog farm spilled animal waste into a Contentnea Creek tributary, but the pollution is likely to cause little lasting damage.
N.C. Division of Water Quality inspectors found that Stantonsburg Farm Inc. on Friday had discharged hog waste into an unnamed stream in northern Greene County, a violation of state environmental standards.
"This is a non-discharge system,” agency spokeswoman Susan Massengale said. "The waste is not supposed to leave their field, and it did. But that does not necessarily mean there is widespread environmental damage downstream.”
Massengale said regulators found no evidence of fish kills from the spill, which environmental advocates feared would contaminate the Contentnea Creek and lead to more pollution in the already endangered Neuse River.
Division of Water Quality inspectors were reviewing reports, testing water samples and planning a second visit to the site today before determining the penalties farm management will face.
"The investigation is continuing,” Massengale said Monday.
Wilson County resident and environmental watchdog Don Webb spotted the spill Friday and reported it to state officials. 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.
"It will get into the Contentnea Creek,” Webb said Friday. "There’s no doubt about it. This is bad. This is toxic waste.”
The spill happened near a sow farm off Sand Pit Road southeast of Stantonsburg. It’s owned by Stantonsburg Farm Inc., a contract grower for Smithfield Foods subsidiary Murphy-Brown.
Don Butler, Murphy-Brown’s director of government relations and public affairs, said his company used to manage the farm, but it’s now run by independent farmers working under contract with Murphy-Brown.
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.
Butler referred questions about the spill to Division of Water Quality officials. Stantonsburg Farm employees didn’t respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Murphy-Brown, a limited-liability corporation based outside the Duplin County town of Warsaw, is the livestock production subsidiary of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer.
Murphy-Brown operates its own farms and has contracts with 1,700 independent farmers, according to the company’s website. Those farmers, called contract growers, receive animals, feed and veterinary care from Murphy-Brown and provide the land, facilities and day-to-day management.
Larry Baldwin, concentrated animal feeding operation coordinator for the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the farm should have to pay a steep price for polluting the public water supply.
"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.
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.”
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