Conservation Groups Seek Cleanup of Murphy-Brown’s Pollution in 3 Eastern NC River Basins
Yesterday, a federal court agreed with conservation groups represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center and ordered that industrial hog producer Murphy-Brown comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up groundwater contamination at several hog facilities owned by the company in eastern North Carolina. The Southern Environmental Law Center represents Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers in the case.
Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc., the largest pork producer in the world, entered into the consent decree with Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers, Inc. (then Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation) to resolve legal challenges alleging violations of federal environmental laws by its industrial hog facilities.
Under the agreement, an independent groundwater expert identified 11 facilities in the Neuse, Lumber, and Cape Fear River basins with demonstrated threats to groundwater or confirmed groundwater pollution. Since October 2013, Murphy-Brown has refused to allow the expert to conduct the facility evaluations necessary to develop technically sound corrective action plans for pollution at the facilities. The conservation groups were forced to go to federal court to enforce the promises made by Murphy-Brown more than a decade ago.
“In a victory for clean water, this federal court decision requires Murphy-Brown to make good on its promises to clean up pollution at its hog facilities in eastern North Carolina,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Now the corporation must allow an independent groundwater expert onto 11 of its industrial facilities to determine the severity of groundwater pollution and develop a plan to fix the problems.”
Under the terms of the decree, an independent groundwater expert chosen by the parties evaluated swine facilities in eastern North Carolina owned and operated by Murphy-Brown for potential contamination of groundwater by swine waste. That review identified the 11 facilities with demonstrated nitrate groundwater contamination or waste lagoon problems in Bladen, Columbus, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson, and Scotland counties. As part of the review, the expert concluded additional groundwater sampling is needed to ensure that groundwater contamination at each site is cleaned up.
“Nitrate pollution in groundwater, which can result from leaking lagoons, land application and breaches in waste piping at industrial swine production facilities, poses serious health risks to people consuming untreated well water and can contaminate nearby streams and rivers,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “We are pleased that the court put an end to Murphy-Brown’s four-year fight to block sampling and cleanup of groundwater pollution at these company-owned swine facilities in North Carolina.”
“It is unfortunate that once again, an industrial hog corporation is unwilling to address the harm it causes to eastern North Carolina communities and waterways unless taken to court. We have been waiting for more than a decade for Murphy-Brown to clean up the pollution and fulfill their promise. We are glad to see that this will now take place,” said Heather Deck of Sound Rivers.