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NC hog farms causing disproportionate health concerns for minority communities, EPA says

John Wadsworth, with Bubba. John is from Myakka City, Fla. He cares for Robby the rat (2 years old) & Bubba the pig (5 years). They live with him year round when he's not traveling with the Fair.
John Wadsworth, with Bubba. John is from Myakka City, Fla. He cares for Robby the rat (2 years old) & Bubba the pig (5 years). They live with him year round when he's not traveling with the Fair.

The letter follows a 2014 Title VI complaint filed by the Waterkeeper Alliance, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and REACH NC.

Naeema Muhammad, co-director for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, said the EPA came to the state in late October to speak to 85 community members affected by the hog industry.

“They had great concern with the Department of Environmental Quality’s ability to fix the problem, and they wanted to encourage them to,” Muhammad said. “(The EPA was) concerned that the community members had experienced intimidation at the hands of this industry.”

Muhammad said the original complaint cited numerous environmental and health problems, including upper respiratory issues, high blood pressure and a higher rate of asthma in children within a two and a half mile radius.

“They told us they feel like prisoners in their own homes, and they feel like they have to negotiate with the air,” Muhammad said.

Geoff Gisler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said hog farms in eastern North Carolina are concentrated in areas with communities of color. These populations are therefore disproportionately bearing the burdens of the industry.

“This was an effort to take a little different approach to bring this to light and show how the state is not protecting its citizens,” Gisler said. “They can’t hang their clothes out to dry, they can’t open their windows, they can’t play in their yards, in some cases they can’t drink the water.”

Will Hendrick, staff attorney at the Waterkeeper Alliance, said the unequal distribution of burdens suggests the Department of Environmental Quality violates civil rights law..

“Federal law will remain on the books and the (department) will be required to comply with it,” he said.

Andy Curliss, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Pork Council, said hog farms are often located in rural areas because that’s where land is available.

“North Carolina hog farmers are good neighbors who care deeply about protecting our water and air,” Curliss said. “We welcome the opportunity to sit down with state regulators and those who live near our farms to address any concerns they may have.”

Hendrick said the Waterkeeper Alliance hopes Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration will address the issues.

“The Cooper administration has a real opportunity to take meaningful action to address this,” he said. “It doesn’t need a commandment from the EPA to come into compliance with federal law.”

Muhammad said farms’ lagoon waste systems are problematic, causing odor and air quality problems — and are a top priority. Although other waste systems are available, Muhammad said the farms say they are not economical options.

The Pork Council’s statement said permits prohibit dumping waste into waterways and require annual inspections of farms.

“A careful review of how North Carolina regulates hog farms will show that we already have the toughest environmental regulations in the nation,” Curliss said.

Muhammad said there is also concern for the state’s poultry industry.

“We’re preparing for when they can no longer have their way with the pigs, that they’ll have the poultry to fall back on,” Muhammad said. “When we meet with the (Department of Environmental Quality) and the governor, we want to talk about environmental justice all around and the health of our communities from all perspectives.”

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