Once every 5 years, you get a chance to make your voice heard on this: Now is the time.

The permit that sets the rules for about 2300 swine facilities affecting the public and environmental health of our region is only reviewed every 5 years.

NOW IS THE TIME AND COMMENTS ARE DUE MARCH 4.

Below is a summary of the issue. If it’s important to you, PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS TODAY!

The Department of Environmental Quality NEEDS to hear from you — they are hearing a mouthful from the industry.

EMAIL COMMENTS TO: Christine.Lawson@ncdenr.gov / include “Swine General Permit” in the subject line

MAIL COMMENTS TO:
Christine Lawson – NC Division of Water Resources
Attn: Swine General Permit
1636 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, N.C. 27699-1636

Background:

  • North Carolina contains the highest density of hogs than anywhere else in the world.
  • They are concentrated in animal feeding operations in primarily low-income minority neighborhoods in the Cape Fear River Watershed
  • These animals produce about 9.5 billion gallons of waste each year
  • Regulation on managing this waste is minimal  

Waste Management Summary:

  • Most of the waste is governed by a general permit that allows it to be kept in open cesspools, often the size of football fields, and then sprayed on nearby cropland.
  • When the sprayers are on, neighbors often decide to stay indoors and must shut their windows or risk droplets of manure and urine blowing into their homes and cars.

The Cost

  • The system of cesspools and sprayers is a cheap way for hog producers to manage waste, but it costs North Carolina an uncounted fortune.
  • Toxic emissions from industrial hog operations foul our air; contaminants from hog feces and urine pollute our waters, and the health, livelihoods, quality-of-life and property value for the neighbors of industrial operations is severely negatively impacted.

The permit

  • The waste management permit is only reviewed every 5 years.
  • This is your chance to ask for better standards.
  • Below are suggestions for comments that you can send by email or mail.

Dear Ms. Lawson,

My name is _____________. I live in the Cape Fear River Basin. The water quality of the Cape Fear River is important to me because (ex. It is the source of my drinking water, I enjoy eating local fish and shell fish, I enjoy recreating on the river with my family, I know how important a healthy river is to my local economy, or anything you feel is important).

I know that the factory farms in North Carolina could be better managed by the General Permit for swine and I believe North Carolina must do a much better job of regulating this industry.  

OPTION ONE: North Carolina deserves stronger pollution controls in the general permit for swine waste management. It’s time that the corporations running this industry are required to pay for a more advanced waste management system.

OPTION TWO: North Carolina needs stronger pollution controls in the general permit for swine waste management. I am particularly concerned about threats to wells used for drinking water. We need mandatory groundwater monitoring when there’s evidence that pollutants from industrial animal operations have seeped into groundwater.

OPTION THREE: I’m writing to request stronger pollution controls in the general permit for swine waste management. I am particularly concerned about nutrient pollution. The lagoon and spray system is outdated. If you refuse to consider requiring the industry update their waste management system, the permit should require swine operators to use the state’s phosphorus loss assessment tool, and limit phosphorus application where necessary. 

OPTION FOUR: I’m writing to request more transparency in the general permit for swine waste management. The public should have access, and DEQ should review more than once a year, records showing permit compliance. The permit should require monthly electronic submission of reports on the contents of cesspools; the volume and location of spraying, the crops sprayed, and the results of soil monitoring of the fields. If operators are following the law, they have nothing to hide.

OPTION FIVE: Recent verdicts in nuisance trials against Smithfield Foods show that the majority low-income minority neighborhoods living near these facilities are victims of a system that does not provide equal protection from environmental harms. This is wrong and I am writing to urge you to consider the public health and environmental impacts on nearby communities in this general permit. The industry should be required to update their waste management processes and do away with ‘lagoon and spray.’

Thank you for your careful consideration of these comments.

Sincerely,

[Insert your name, address, and email address]

Deeper Dive

The below information is provided by Waterkeeper Alliance and offers a deeper dive into this issue for those interested in learning more or adding more detail to their comments.

The DEQ proposed some positive changes to the last permit, but there is still a long way to go before it adequately safeguards our environment and health. Here is what we are asking for:

EQUITY

We know that industrial hog operations are disproportionately located near poor communities of color, who bear a disproportionate burden from the dangerous pollution the facilities produce. Currently, DEQ does not consider the public health or environmental impact of industrial hog operations on nearby communities. DEQ must take steps to protect everyone, especially the most vulnerable communities.

  • DEQ has failed to identify communities suffering from disparate impacts or afford them any  protection in the General Permit, which it must do to comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (a federal law that makes it illegal for DEQ to discriminate against people of color).
  • In a May 2018 Title VI settlement agreement, DEQ promised to develop and implement an Environmental Justice (EJ) mapping tool that can identify communities of concern which are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of industrial animal operations.  DEQ promised to use of this tool in the General Permit to ensure that all communities are safe. However, DEQ broke this promise and indicated that this tool will not be ready for implementation in this General Permit.
  • If the final General Permit  still fails to protect these communities of concern, DEQ should limit the term of the General Permit a shorter, 2-year duration (October 1, 2019- September 30, 2021), during which time the EJ tool can be developed and piloted as required by the Title VI settlement agreement.

TRANSPARENCY

Currently, the General Permit allows records regarding waste management practices to be maintained on-site and shielded from the general public. The public deserves to know where, when, and how much hog waste is generated and disposed of by permittees, as well as what in that waste and what the permittee is doing to prevent waste from threatening our health, air, rivers, and streams.

  • We thank DEQ for encouraging more transparency by proposing that permittees submit important records to the agency. These records will better prepare nearby communities to protect themselves from the risks of pollution from hog waste.
  • We also applaud DEQ for making clear that digesters, lagoon covers and other lagoon retrofits constitute “major changes” that require prior DEQ approval. The permit should also make clear that those changes must all satisfy statutory performance criteria. 
  • DEQ should also require permittees to electronically submit records documenting how much waste is applied to crop land, cropping, stocking, and soil and lagoon sampling.

ACCOUNTABILITY

For the first time, DEQ is proposing to require groundwater monitoring at some lagoons (those in the 100 year floodplain), but it does not go far enough to protect all communities living near hog facilities. DEQ does not currently require permittees to monitor groundwater for contamination from swine waste or to evaluate the amount of waste that can be safely applied to nearby cropland on swine facilities.  DEQ must hold the industry accountable by requiring that permittees collect the data necessary to assess hog waste pollution on a large-scale basis.

Groundwater Monitoring

In almost half the areas with the highest density of swine operations, 85 percent of neighbors depend on well water. 

  • We thank DEQ for proposing to require groundwater monitoring whenever a facility’s waste is stored in the 100 year floodplain. 
  • Groundwater monitoring should also be required when DEQ, the public, or the permittee finds evidence of off-site impacts to groundwater and rivers and streams; when a permittee buries dead animals; and if a permittee installs a cover over one or more lagoons.

Risk of Phosphorus Pollution

Nutrient pollution, including runoff of phosphorus from sprayfields, contributes to harmful algal blooms, fish kills, and other pollution problems in rivers and streams. The Phosphorus Loss Assessment Tool (PLAT) evaluates the risk of phosphorus pollution when animal waste is applied to cropland. 

  • We applaud DEQ for proposing the use of PLAT. 
  • DEQ should require all permittees to use PLAT to use this tool and to adjust on-site operations when the risk of phosphorus pollution is unacceptably high.

TECHNOLOGY

The industry uses a primitive system to manage the tremendous amount of waste produced from hog operations.  This system has failed time and time again to protect public health and natural resources. Automated technology, including rain breakers, flow meters, rain gauges, lagoon level monitors, and equipment designed to reduce waste potential, is widely-available to the industry to help prevent many of these pollution problems.  

  • DEQ should require technology that ensures permittees comply with the terms of the permit.  The draft General Permit allows DEQ to require a permittee to install automated technology on a “case-by-case basis.”  DEQ should make clear when it will require the installation of such technology and should always require automated technology when the permittee violates the conditions of the General Permit.
  • In the stakeholder draft, DEQ proposed to require technology that automatically stops spraying waste on cropland during rain events.  In the latest draft, DEQ proposes to instead allow permittees to commit to having a person at the facility that will stop spraying waste before a rain event begins.  DEQ’s proposal will make matters worse – permittees already violate the terms of the permit by spraying waste in the rain.  DEQ must protect against human error and require automated technology at non-compliant facilities.
  • The General Permit should preview the potential mitigation requirements (including conversion of lagoons to superior technologies) that may be required in the future in the floodplains and/or to protect communities of concern.

6 thoughts on “Once every 5 years, you get a chance to make your voice heard on this: Now is the time.

  1. Dear Ms. Lawson,
    I live in the Cape Fear River Basin. The water quality of the Cape Fear River is important to me because (ex. It is the source of my drinking water, I enjoy eating local fish and shell fish, I enjoy recreating on the river with my family, I know how important a healthy river is to my local economy, or anything you feel is important).
    I know that the factory farms in North Carolina could be better managed by the General Permit for swine and I believe North Carolina must do a much better job of regulating this industry.
    The industry uses a primitive system to manage the tremendous amount of waste produced from hog operations. This system has failed time and time again to protect public health and natural resources. Automated technology, including rain breakers, flow meters, rain gauges, lagoon level monitors, and equipment designed to reduce waste potential, is widely-available to the industry to help prevent many of these pollution problems.
    Please for the many generations to come, protect our water supply.
    We need to install the newest technologies and monitor all of the hog waste to protect our ground water, drinking water and all runoffs in North Carolina.
    Thank You

  2. Please consider the health of all the people along the Cape Fear River Basin and the beaches of Southestern North Carolina, where millions of people live or vacation every year, when deciding how to regulate the swine waste management. We live in a modern world with modern challenges that need to be handled in a responsible way to the environment and the children of our future. Thank you so much for your consideration.

    Sincerely,
    Tracy McCullen & Dorothy Papadakos

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