Today, many farmers continue to store the waste in open pits despite the millions of dollars in private investment spent and years of research and political promises. The practice grows more hazardous with each hurricane that pounds the state.
The lagoons were supposed to be gone by now.
Nearly 20 years ago, North Carolina faced a reckoning. Hurricane Floyd inundated the state, flooding the open pits where farmers store hog waste. The nation looked on in horror as pink sludge from the lagoons mingled with rising floodwaters to force stranded animals atop hog houses and drowned thousands of pigs.
State officials vowed change and in 2000 delivered a plan. The centerpiece was an agreement with Smithfield Foods, the world’s leading pork producer and one of North Carolina’s biggest businesses. Smithfield agreed to finance research into alternatives to the lagoons and to install within three years whatever system emerged as environmentally effective and economically viable.