The Slatest

A Dozen Giant, Feces-Filled Lagoons Are Overflowing in North Carolina

An aerial shot of a roof of a barn surrounded by brown flood waters
Floodwaters inundate a barn after Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas in Sept. 2018.
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

The recovery efforts are in full swing in North Carolina, where flooding remains a pressing and devastating problem. For farmers in the state, the flooding has created some very complicated messes—including the overflow of massive pig-poop-filled lagoons.

These open-air lagoons, in which farmers collect both solid and liquid waste from hogs, serve to allow the waste to be slowly broken down and later pumped onto crops as fertilizer. Normally, these lagoons can safely absorb about 20 inches of rain. But Hurricane Florence dumped more than that amount in some areas, causing these lagoons to overflow and threaten to contaminate fresh water sources with dangerous pathogens.

According to the News & Observer, of the roughly 3,300 hog lagoons in the state, 13 are overflowing or in other ways breached; another 55 are close to capacity and could overflow if water levels rise any further. But the state government is relying on self-reporting from farmers, and these numbers are expected to rise as farmers begin to survey their properties.

North Carolina has the second most hogs of any state, and it’s not yet known how many were trapped and killed by flooding. The number is expected to be high. One poultry company has already announced that 1.7 million chickens have died from the hurricane, with 6 million others at risk of starvation, according to NPR.

The storm has left the state grappling with other environmental risks. A coal ash landfill near a lake has failed, causing more than 2,000 cubic yards of toxic waste to wash away, according to the Washington Post. Coal ash contains arsenic, lead, and mercury, among other chemicals, and it has been linked to cancer and other health problems. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to send teams to inspect certain prioritized hazardous-waste sites, and there are more than 70 locations in the Carolinas that are listed on the EPA’s National Priorities List.