Residents in eastern North Carolina claim that hog farmers have been spraying toxic animal waste over poor communities, causing various health problems.
In North Carolina the pork industry is worth an estimated $2.5 billion, with roughly 2,100 swine farms that produce 10 million hogs each year.
Most of the hog farms are concentrated in a few rural counties containing the state’s densest population of rural African Americans.
The waste, which contains methane, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia linked to eye irritation and breathing problems, is dumped into open-air “lagoons” where it either sits or is disposed of by aircraft.
“The waste falls through the floors. It’s flushed out into an open pit, like a cesspool,” said Steve Wing, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, in an interview with filmmaker Mark Devries.
“It’s easy for a big hog operation to have as much waste as a medium-sized city. Of course, the pit will fill up, so it has to be emptied. And they’re emptied by spraying the liquid waste,” Wing said.
With dozens of other lawsuits filed against the state’s largest hog producer, Murphy-Brown, Republican legislators are attempting to pass legislation limiting the amount of damages residents can receive for health problems due to animal waste disposal.
House Bill 467, sponsored by former hog farmer Republican state Rep. Jimmy Dixon, would also prevent residents living near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from suing over offensive odors produced by the farms.
A class-action lawsuit representing nearly 500 mostly African American residents against Murphy-Brown is now in federal court.
Murphy-Brown is a subsidiary of the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, which is owned by the Chinese state-owned WH Holdings.