State must solve hog waste removal problem

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In his recent column (“Find solution to hog farm suits,” July 23) Tom Campbell describes lawsuits against hog farms as “nuisance” lawsuits and suggests they are more of a problem than the pollution produced by the hog farms. Mr. Campbell fails to explain that many of the lawsuits are based on a very real problem.

That problem is the reliance of hog farmers on a hog waste lagoon system. These lagoons too frequently spill over into streams and rivers, particularly after heavy rains and during the winter months. Lagoons are supposed to be kept less than full by use of sprayfields — areas where the hog waste is sprayed onto growing grassy fields during the growing season. This system of lagoons and sprayfields is highly regulated by the state, but it relies upon individual farmers following the regulations and honestly recording their actions for inspectors to check.

Unfortunately, inspections are few and far between, and it is very easy to cheat the system by simply recording false information. Some years ago, as an environmental educator, I took a workshop along with hog farm workers that was supposed to prepare them for using the sprayfield system and understanding the regulations involved. It was interesting to hear their private comments during breaks between sessions, as they did not know that I was a teacher and not a hog farm worker. Most of their comments related to knowing how to work the system without necessarily following the regulations.

North Carolina has a population of about 10 million people. These people produce on average about 0.4 pounds of fecal waste per day, for a total of about 4 million pounds per day.

North Carolina has a population of about 9 million hogs. An adult hog produces on average about 4 pounds of fecal waste per day — about 10 times the amount a human produces. Obviously, not all 9 million hogs in our state are adult size, but even if we consider only a 2-pound-per-day waste product, the total is 18 million pounds per day, nearly five times the fecal output of the human population of the state.

Human waste from cities and towns is carefully treated before being released into streams or rivers. In a good waste treatment system, most of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants are removed before the effluent is released. Hog waste from farms is treated very differently, in a system that invites severe and sometimes crisis pollution of streams and rivers.

It should be noted that an average farm of 5,000 hogs can produce the fecal waste equivalent to the human population of the city of Wilson. Wilson County does not have a significant problem with hog waste, but in counties to our south and east, the problem is very serious.

In summary, the lawsuits against hog farms are not “nuisance” lawsuits, and whether or not the lawyers are local or out of state is not the issue. The real issue is how to deal with a huge problem of hog waste in such a way as to avoid the stench and avoid the pollution of our streams and rivers.

John Wright