The Factory Farm Fallout from Hurricane Florence

October 02, 2018

Last month, Hurricane Florence hit Virginia and the Carolinas with devastating results. The deaths of at least 42 people have been attributed to the Category 2 storm. The clean up and rebuilding alone will cost billions of dollars. Adding to the devastation is the damage caused by the factory farms directly within the hurricane's path.

North Carolina is one of the biggest pig-farming states in the country, with roughly 9.7 million pigs raised, and held captive, on 2,300 farms. Naturally, the raising and slaughter of these pigs produces waste. But, where does it all go? Massive pig manure lagoons, holding a collective 10 billion gallons of waste annually, store the waste after it is funneled beyond the factory farm walls. According to Vox, in the wake of Hurricane Florence, 31 of the lagoons have flooded to release this toxic waste into the environment, and 76 more were at imminent risk of doing so.

This isn't the first time that lagoons like these have flooded. In 1999, as a result of Hurricane Floyd, this endless factory farm waste entered into the rivers and resulted in mass fish die-offs and a build-up of algal blooms in the water.

It's not just aquatic life that suffers. The waste also has an impact on the people who live nearby, even when the lagoons are not overflowing into waterways. Residents, who are primarily in low-income communities, have long held that living near these manure lagoons creates health issues. A Duke University study released last month supported these local claims, citing "Life expectancy in North Carolina communities near hog CAFOs [Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation] remains low, even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors that are known to affect people's health and life span."

The New York Times also notes another health issue that could be created: "Excess nitrates in groundwater, such as those associated with pig manure, are linked with health problems like blue baby syndrome. In some cases of the syndrome, nitrogen binds to the hemoglobin in a baby's blood and makes red blood cells unable to carry oxygen. The syndrome's name comes from the fact that the lack of oxygen causes the baby's skin to take on a bluish tint." This syndrome can be fatal to infants.

In addition to the human and environmental repercussions, close to 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys drowned in the confines of captive farms during Hurricane Florence. All of this could have been prevented, had the factory farms—an inherently broken system—simply not been there in the first place. In a crisis like this, it's made obvious. Factory farms are not just hurting animals, they're hurting all of us— damaging our environments, our own health, and our societal malpractice of compassion and kindness toward other living beings. We are capable of doing better.

It doesn't have to be like this. We can all make a choice to reject the cruelty and devastation caused by factory farming. To learn more about how your individual impact can start changing the world for the better, visit EatingVeg.org.