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EPD Needs to Protect Us From Liquid Hog Waste

October 10, 2013
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Do you want to keep industrial hog waste from ruining property, communities, health and clean water in Georgia?  If yes, then read on.

Hog waste could flow in large quantities in your watershed if the Georgia Board of Natural Resources (Board) accepts the Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) proposed changes that would significantly weaken swine rules and regulations for large hog operations.  Read the synopsis of the proposed changes and the detailed changes.

Backstory: In the 1990s, the DNR Board understood that hogs produced a liquid waste-stream that was different from other animals.  The Board decided that mega hog operations proposed throughout Georgia at the time were not in the state’s best interest.  In response to public input, the Board created hog specific regulations to protect Georgians.  They wanted to prevent the kinds of mega hog pollution and liquid waste problems experienced in North Carolina.  Unfortunately, in 2012, the Board weakened rules for all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to make those rules closer to minimum federal standards.

Now, state government is picking winners and losers.  According to a Morris News Service article, EPD is asking the DNR Board to revise the mega hog rule to further weaken regulations so “four or five” of the almost fifty permitted hog producers in Georgia can expand.

However, this change will open the door to expanded and new mega hog producing operations that will threaten communities, public health, property rights and rivers across Georgia.  Liquid hog waste is a problem because the amount of liquid manure-waste produced by one hog can equal four times the amount produced by a human.  Thus, a hog operation with up to 12,500 hogs (the equivalent of 5,000 “animal units”) could produce about the same amount of waste as a population of 50,000 people (roughly the population of Valdosta) but hog waste is concentrated and untreated, unlike sewage from cities where human waste is treated.

With this rule change, industrial hog operations with up to 12,500 hogs will no longer be subject to requirements for notice to neighboring landowners before operations begin; limits on open waste lagoons and spraying; requirements that facilities have the financial means to properly close old waste lagoons; wider buffers between facilities and state waters, public water supplies, schools, and occupied residences; and restrictions on permitting of operators that have racked-up previous violations.

Mega hog operations also present significant risks to public health.  According to a 2013 Johns Hopkins’ study, people who live near hog operations and fields sprayed with hog waste (called Land Application Systems) are at risk of developing infections that are resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics.

Larger hog operations will also impair Georgia’s ground and surface water.  We know hog waste presents particularly high pollution risks and has a history of contaminating rivers in the South.

North Carolina has long been the poster-child and illustrates why large hog operations must be highly regulated.  For example, in 1995 an eight-acre hog waste lagoon full of waste generated by 10,000 animals ruptured and poured 25 million gallons of liquid manure into the New River.  More than 10 million fish were killed and more than 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands were closed to fishermen.  The News and Observer provided extensive Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of what led to “North Carolina’s pork revolution.”

In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall in North Carolina, killing an estimated 30,000 hogs and flooding nearly 50 liquid manure lagoons and causing five more to fail completely.  Millions of gallons of hog waste poured into six coastal rivers.  As the waste easily escaped with the flood waters – as seen in these satellite images – it also seeped into private drinking water wells. Nine percent of the 310 private drinking water wells tested were contaminated.  Rick Dove’s images of pollution after Hurricane Floyd and subsequent storms are unambiguous.

These problems do not just occur during tropical storms and hurricanes, they can occur any time there is a substantial rain of a few inches. When hog waste lagoons are full of hog manure and rain, operators of these facilities have no choice but to pump that sludge onto fields that are already soaking wet. When that happens, the hog manure flows into the creeks and rivers and landowners and communities downstream are polluted and their health and property values are affected.

In Georgia, a variety of data sources provide indirect evidence that a half-dozen hog facilities discharge waste into creeks and rivers in the Savannah, Withlacoochee, Alapaha, Ogeechee, and Altamaha river basins, and that EPD considers those same waterways impaired because there are high levels of fecal coliform in the water.  According to EPD’s 2012 305b/303d List, these creeks and river segments do not meet their designated use for fishing.

Recent events make North Carolina’s history relevant for Georgia’s future.  The Virginia-based Smithfield Foods is the nation’s biggest hog grower and pork producer.  Smithfield is a vertically integrated company, which means the company owns the hogs from “squeal to meal.”  Smithfield provides pigs, feed, hormones, antibiotics and financing to contracted hog producers who house the animals and manage the waste stream until the hogs head to a processing plant.  On September 26, 2013, Smithfield finalized a $4.7 billion deal, selling the company to the Chinese-based Shuanghui International.  It’s the biggest Chinese acquisition of an American company.  Shuanghui wants to “quickly ramp up pork exports from the U.S.” to China and further “accelerate Smithfield’s global expansion.”  The U.S. is already the global leader in pork exports, and the top four markets are Japan, Mexico, China and Canada.

But after decades of water pollution, hog producing requirements in North Carolina are now more restrictive for new operations and therefore the hog growing business cannot get any bigger there without implementing expensive and appropriate waste management technology.  Because North Carolina’s hog operations are unlikely to expand given that state’s limits for new and expanded operations, and because of Smithfield’s sale, Georgia’s proposed and weakened hog producing regulations could open the door to massive production of Chinese owned hogs in Georgia for export via Georgia’s ports.  Smithfield is no stranger to Georgia.  Plus, during Governor Nathan Deal’s trip to China in August 2013, agricultural products were on the agenda and it’s possible hogs were discussed given the then-pending Smithfield-Shuanghui deal.

If you don’t want mega hog operations and liquid manure fouling your community, here is what you can do:

Sign-up for the Georgia Environmental Action Network.  GEAN is an on-line system that periodically provides you with information on the most important environmental issues and gives you the choice to take action and let decision makers know your views. The GEAN system automatically matches you to your elected officials, includes your contact information and delivers letters – all with one mouse click. Go to www.protectgeorgia.net and click “sign up”.  Then watch for alerts on this topic.

Also, attend EPD’s currently scheduled public hearing on October 25 where individuals can speak directly to EPD staff.  Submit formal written comments before October 28.  Attend the December 3 DNR Board Meeting where you can sign-up and present a short three-minute statement to the board.  Full details here.

-Chris Manganiello

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