I’ve been watching from the air with alarm.
Though corporate farmers call them “lagoons,” I hesitate to use that word. Really, they’re cesspools: unlined open-air pits, often containing millions of gallons of hog feces and urine. North Carolina is home to the second-largest number of hogs in the country, and it hosts some 3,000 of these cesspools, their liquid colored a vivid pink. In this system, known locally as “lagoon and sprayfield,” untreated waste from these pools is sprayed onto adjacent cropland.
And there’s a lot of waste. In North Carolina’s Duplin County, the 2.2 million hogs produce twice as much manure as the waste from the entire New York City metro area — and not one ounce goes to a sewer plant. It just sits there, waiting for a catastrophe like Hurricane Florence to wreak havoc.
For storms like this one — the kind that are supposed to come once in a hundred years — my colleagues at Waterkeeper Alliance, the largest and fastest growing nonprofit solely dedicated to clean water, have developed a routine: We send team members in small planes, trading off shifts, to survey the damage. As soon as weather permitted, we began monitoring coal-ash landfills and wastewater treatment plants. I’ve been tasked with watching the swine and poultry farms, taking photos and videos.