The coastal plains of North Carolina is characterized by flat land, wide rivers, beautiful and diverse ecology and rich agricultural soils, however many environmental pollutants are defiling this fragile ecosystem. There are several factors that are associated with the destruction of the coastal plains ecosystem, but there is one factor that stands out more than all the others. The major source of pollution that is threatening eastern North Carolina’s ecosystems is industrial swine farming. Swine farming is a threat to the workers that seek to make money from agricultural work, the ecosystem as a whole, and the well fare of those that live around these industrial hog farms. North Carolina has sought to cure the coastal plains of this problem through legislation that requires strict regulation of swine waste products, but is it truly doing enough to prevent a major catastrophe from occurring?
More pigs live in eastern North Carolina than people, and three out of the six largest swine producing corporations thrive in the coastal plains region. The thousands of pigs in one of these industrial swine farms produce more waste products than the entire state of California in a twenty-four hour period. Before swine farming turned into an industry that catered to a few privilege individuals, independent farmers did a majority of swine production. When this was the case, the independent farmers dispersed the waste products of the pigs over their fields to produce an organic means of fertilization, and recycled the swine waste. Since the industry for hog production has changed radically in the past years the emphasis of pig farming has changed form a simple view of farming and domestication to one of high product yields with minimal capital and work.
Due to this change in the industry, hog farms have resulted to keeping many animals in a minimal amount of space, hence leading to massive amounts of waste products. So how does a farmer dispose of twenty-five million gallons of pig feces and urine? The answer is the building of large pits underneath the pig stalls known as lagoons. These lagoons seek to store all of the pigs’ waste products without contamination of the fragile ecosystem around the farm, but this means of disposal dose not prevent environmental pollution. In the summer of 1997, heavy rainfalls caused several waste lagoons to overflow and taint the rivers and ground water of the surrounding area killing millions of fish and causing bacteria and viruses to breed in the waters. In the fall of 1999, the same occurrence happened with the attack of many fierce hurricanes up and down the east coast of North Carolina. Rivers and waste lagoons flooded and many pigs died during the high winds and heavy rains produced by the violent storms.
Thousands of pig carcasses entered the rivers and floated in stagnate floods waters causing more environmental problems for the coastal plains region of North Carolina. A major problem that is associated with the overflow of these lagoons in to the natural water ecosystems of eastern North Carolina is the high concentrate of such chemicals as nitrates and phosphorous. Due to eastern North Carolina’s shallow water table and porous sandy soils, contaminated water can easily ooze into groundwater deposits and wells. High levels of nitrates form pig corpses seep into groundwater and wells causing methemoglobinemia or “blue baby syndrome” which is potentially fatal to infants. The decaying animal waste that is a large composition of pig’s feces uses up a majority of the oxygen in fresh water. Phosphorous and other minerals found in pig waste encourage alga growth that consumes even more oxygen causing the mass killing of fish and all other forms of aquatic life.
Another form of aquatic pollution that occurs when hog waste enters natural wetlands and water deposits is Pfiesteria piscicida. Pfiesteria piscicida is a toxic microbe that thrives in pig fecal matter. These tiny predators can morph into twenty-four forms depending on its prey. Pfiesteria piscicida inflicts pustulating legions on fish whose flesh it dissolves with excreted toxins. Scientist suggest that Pfiesteria piscicida causes brain damage and respiratory illness in humans that come in contact with fish or water that has been infected by this tiny microbe. Other parasite bacteria and viruses that released into the water from pig waste are streptococcus, giardia, salmonella, listeria, and chlamydia. Avian botulism and Cholera kill thousands of migratory waterfowl a year. Swine farms also produce large amounts of ammonia, which evaporates into the water cycle and returns to the Earth in rain causing a form of acid rain.
Not only dose the swine industry produce water pollution but it also affects air quality as well. People who live in areas surrounding large hog operations have been complaining about the fowl stench that is another negative by product of pig farming. Psychologists have performed studies on the correlation of foul smells with depression. Evidence has been apparent that there is a direct link between rank scents and depression. Who wants to live in a place that constantly reeks of pig feces? This has been a problem that has arisen due to the expansion of industrial swine production in eastern North Carolina.