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Duke professor says Hurricane Florence kills hogs, destroys hog-waste lagoons

North Carolina has more hogs than New Jersey has people. But since Hurricane Florence, hog-waste lagoons have been flooding and threatening local ecosystems. 

The North Carolina Pork Council reported 5,500 hog deaths—a death toll nearly double that of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. As of Oct. 1, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality reported that five lagoons were structurally damaged and that 32 had discharged wastewater 

The deceased hogs will have to be disposed of before they begin to decay, said Rebecca Vidra, lecturer in the division of environmental sciences and policy at the Nicholas School. The industry has the option of burying, disposing in landfills or incinerating the deceased hogs. 

The flooding of hog waste lagoons can be disastrous for the North Carolina marine ecosystems. 

The hog waste can flow into rivers or seep into groundwater. When a surge of nutrients such as manure is released into an ecosystem, algae flourish. The huge bloom of photosynthetic algae absorbs all available oxygen, which then suffocates the fish below the surface and hurts marine ecosystems. 

The flooding could also impact human health. The wastewater can seep into groundwater, making it undrinkable and unsafe to use to bathe or clean with. 

Environmental justice groups across North Carolina, including the Rachel Carson Council, have been working with community stakeholders to mitigate these potential effects. 

“Our primary function is organizing to make sure that these impacts don’t happen again,” said Alexandra Wisner, Trinity '18 and assistant director for the Rachel Carson Council. 

The North Carolina Pork Council also commented on the scope and severity of the storm’s impacts. 

“While we are dismayed by the release of some liquids from some lagoons, we also understand that what has been released from the farms is the result of a once-in-a-lifetime storm and that the contents are highly diluted with rainwater,” the Pork Council wrote in a news release Sept. 19. 

According to Vidra, the impacts of the storm and the flooding of lagoons may not be seen for quite some time. 

“It may take a matter of weeks or even months to understand the scope of the spills,” she said.


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