Pure Farms, Pure Waters

North Carolina

Waterkeeper Alliance, in cooperation with North Carolina Riverkeepers and our local, state and national partners, successfully developed and are implementing an unprecedented statewide and integrated watershed-specific strategy to hold industry and regulatory agencies accountable for water quality impacts.  The North Carolina CAFO Campaign employs a strategic blend of public outreach and education, community support, partnership building, regulatory reform, litigation, and field investigation designed to expose and reform industry practices, cleanup North Carolina’s waterways and force the NC Department of Environmental Quality and EPA to enforce the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

The heaviest concentration of swine in the nation is located in southeastern North Carolina, while poultry operations are widespread and expanding statewide and dairy facilities are primarily located in the western part of the state. In areas with the highest concentration of CAFOs, different types of facilities are often commingled, amplifying the negative impacts to waterways and communities from excessive amounts of waste.

Despite extensive evidence demonstrating significant contributions of nutrient and bacterial pollution from CAFOs to public waters, the State has failed to uphold its delegated responsibilities under the Clean Water Act to the point that the federal government has threatened to revoke its permitting authority.

The Hog Industry

North Carolina has more than 2,000 industrial hog operations that confine an estimated 10 million hogs. The state produces the second most hogs of any state, but has the highest density of hog operations in the country.

Waste from North Carolina hog facilities is collected in large open-air, unlined pits where it is held until the raw waste is sprayed on adjacent fields in quantities far greater than can be absorbed by crops.

Most of these land application fields are in the fragile, low-lying coastal plain, where they have been heavily ditched for drainage of the high groundwater table to facilitate crop production. These same ditches act as conveyances for pollutants, such as nutrients and fecal bacteria, to be transported off-site and into public waters. Pollution also seeps into groundwater from the unlined holding pits and land application areas. In addition to water pollution, ammonia, hydrogen-sulfide, and greenhouse gases like methane, along with foul odors, make life in nearby communities miserable and threaten public health.

Out of the over 2,000 swine CAFOs in North Carolina, only 12 have been required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit. The vast majority of these operations operate under a State General Permit that inexplicably assumes that all pollution is contained on-site, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

In 2013, the company that controls most of the hog operations in North Carolina, Smithfield Foods, was purchased by the Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. to become the largest pork producer in the world. Shuanghui, which has since changed its name to WH Group, paid 31% per share above market price for acquisition of Smithfield. This foreign corporation now owns most of the hogs in North Carolina and the largest hog slaughterhouse in the world in Tar Heel, NC.

Poultry CAFOs

North Carolina produces approximately 785.5 million broiler chickens per year, the fourth most of any state, and approximately 34 million turkeys, the second most of any state.

Poultry waste is spread on fields in excessive quantities where it can be carried by wind and rain into nearby waters and communities. Waste is frequently stockpiled in a manner, in violation of rarely enforced State regulation, so that it is exposed to the elements and subject to being blown by the wind or washed into waterways by rain.

We cannot be sure how many individual facilities are in operation or where the waste is disposed of because poultry operations in NC are “deemed permitted” by regulation, meaning they can begin operations when constructed with no scrutiny from the State. While certain documents and records are required to be submitted to the State as part of their operations, North Carolina law ensures that those records remain confidential, meaning that the public cannot access waste management plans, waste land application records, or even information about the location of poultry facilities.

Dairy CAFOs

There are approximately 300 dairy CAFOs operating in North Carolina. These facilities generate thousands of gallons of liquefied waste each day, which is spread onto open fields resulting in many of the same water quality issues from runoff of nutrient and bacterial pollution. Foul odor and contaminated water are concerns people living near these facilities face daily.

Water Pollution & Health Impacts

A January 2015 study conducted by researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill and Johns Hopkins University used DNA to trace fecal bacteria in waterways to hog operations, concluding that swine CAFOs in eastern NC are releasing high levels of fecal bacteria into public waters.

High levels of nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen from CAFOs contribute to the growth of toxic algae blooms, leading to fish kills and eutrophication. Hog and poultry operations are heavily concentrated and often co-mingled, amplifying their impacts.

In a joint study conducted by the NC Department of Environmental Quality and the US Geological Survey released in the summer of 2015, nutrient levels were compared between 54 sub-watersheds, some containing CAFOs and some not. The study found significant water quality impacts in watersheds containing CAFOs when compared with those that contained no CAFOs.

Scientific studies have documented numerous health impacts from living near CAFOs in North Carolina, such as asthma and other respiratory disorders, exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), drinking water contaminated with nitrates, and emissions of hazardous gasses causing coughing, nausea, headaches, burning eyes and psychological effects. Across the state, CAFOs are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color.

The North Carolina Riverkeepers

In North Carolina, Riverkeepers have taken on the mission to put an end to water pollution resulting from the concentration, lax regulation, and destructive waste disposal practices of industrialized livestock operations. The NC Riverkeepers work strategically together and in their respective watersheds with campaign has the following goals in mind:

(1) Make information public to bring to light the negative environmental impacts from swine, poultry and dairy CAFOs across the State;
(2) Support food production systems that do not harm water quality, communities and farmers;
(3) Hold the corporations that dictate production practices responsible for waste management solutions; and
(4) Force government agencies to properly regulate and enforce the law.

Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers devote immense amounts of time and resources conducting field investigations, working on the ground, on the water, and in the air.

CAFO Mapping

In June 2016, Waterkeeper Alliance, North Carolina Riverkeeper organizations and Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a first-of-its-kind interactive map revealing the locations of more than 6,500 concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, across the state of North Carolina.

The unprecedented mapping project identifies approximate locations of all swine, poultry and cattle CAFO operations in the state, as well as the size of the operations. The online maps allow users to view total estimated waste outputs on a facility, watershed, county or statewide scale. All told, researchers from the groups estimate more than 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste and 2 million tons of dry animal waste is generated annually in North Carolina from CAFOs, leaving tens of thousands of rural residents susceptible to air and water quality contamination.

Read the Executive Summary of this project here. For more information on the data and methodology used to create these maps, contact Waterkeeper Alliance here.

Explore the maps below:

Base Map

County Map

Watershed Map

Block Group Map