The record rains of Hurricane Florence have posed multiple environmental and human health issues. As of September 19, 2018, at least 77 pig waste “lagoons” in North Carolina have flooded into the surrounding area or are at imminent risk of doing so.
In these large-scale pig farms, pig waste falls through slatted floors into a holding area below. Farmers periodically flush the contents of the holding areas into open-air lagoons. These lagoons are usually adjacent to the pig farms and are made of soil. The walls of the lagoons are high enough to accommodate a substantial amount of rain. The record levels of rainwater that Florence has brought to the east coast, however, threaten to flood the pools. The problem isn’t just the water levels, but also the erosion of the lagoon walls with excessive rainfall. This poses serious environmental threats to the surrounding areas. Accidental release of the waste could damage ecosystems and cause algal blooms in rivers and ponds. The pig waste could also result in mass mortality of nearby plants and animals.
To prepare for the storm, many farmers tried to create more space in the waste lagoons by partially draining them. They then used the waste as fertilizer in nearby farms. Though this may have helped many farms avoid lagoon wall erosion, it doesn’t do much for protecting the environment and water systems. If the farms flood with the high rain levels, surrounding residential areas and water systems could also be inundated with contaminated water, posing threats to human health as well.