North Carolina floods make pig poop and coal ash a major health concern

An earthen dam surrounding a hog lagoon was breached by flood waters in Duplin County and in Sampson County, according to North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCSEQ) Secretary Michael Regan. Hog or swine lagoons are human made pits or dugouts that store animal waste. The lagoons are meant to help reduce pollution and the the North Carolina Pork Council says its “rare” for lagoons to overflow, but there are reports of at least seven lagoon “over tops,” as they are also known, in Jones and Pender county, the department said. There are four reports from the Department of Environmental Quality of hog lagoons being inundated by nearby bodies of water as well in Jones County as of noon on Tuesday.
The North Carolina Pork Council said that the lagoon breach in Duplin County was at a small farm and an on-site inspection showed “that solids remained in the lagoon.” There was no mention if there were any solids being released from the four additional lagoons that were inundated by floodwaters. It said the other 3,000 lagoons in the state are in good shape so far. The Department of Environmental Quality will do inspections when they can get on location. The North Carolina Pork Council said it will also watch the situation closely.
“We remain concerned about the potential impact of these record-shattering floods,” the council said on their website. “We are continuing to assess the impact and expect to provide further updates later.”

Hog farmers are required by law to report when a breach happens. Deputy Communications Director Bridget Munger said there may be other problem areas, but the staff has had to gather these reports quickly under difficult circumstances. The department’s Wilmington office had no power and the staff in Fayetteville had to be evacuated due to flooding. “We are processing the information as quickly as we can as it is coming in,” Munger said. The department will have a larger report out later.

It’s unclear how much waste is in the storm water, but the waste pits contain bacteria like e.coli and salmonella. Exposure to feces can cause kidney problems, vomiting, fatigue, stomach problems, skin infections and other problems.
Regular exposure to hog waste without flooding by people who work with the animals or people who live near the farms can have a negative impact on health, according to earlier studies. People have reported higher instances of lung problems like shortness of breath and cough and some neurobehavioral issues such as balance and verbal problems. There is also some concern about antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Florence leaves 'monumental disaster' -- with more trouble to come; death toll at 31
“The industrial farming and hog farms use a lot of antibiotics. It’s how you get growth hormones and get lots of animals fat quickly,” said Winifred Hamilton who has studied the health consequences of flooding and is director of the Environmental Health Service at Baylor College of Medicine. She said they found that antibiotic resistant bacteria was 250 times higher in sediment left in houses by floodwater from Hurricane Harvey in Texas last year.

“When people are in their homes in the muck stage they really need to be protected,” Hamilton said. Bring masks and protective gear. “You don’t want to touch the flood water at all.”

It may be hard to avoid contaminated water. Duplin and Sampson counties make up some of the most concentrated area for swine farms in the world, and the area has already had problems with health concerns related to pollution before the flood. The flood could certainly compound those issues. An immuno-compromised person, like someone with a chronic health condition, can face a Salmonella infection, although that is rare. Bacteria and viruses could also be a problem.
Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette has been watching the storm in these areas with great concern. The area has already seen all-time record flood levels that are expected to increase even more. The farms that are built on flood planes, and there are dozens, will be in serious trouble he said and he expects more hog lagoons will breach before the storm is over. The dirt in the fields that were sprayed with manure before the storm will also mix with the storm water and Burdette said the state will likely see some of the barns flooded out, meaning that animals in those barns will likely die and will further contaminate the floodwater.

Compounding North Carolina’s troubles the Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Maggie Sauerhage says the state has reported that seven of its wastewater treatment facilities are “in non-operational status.”

'Storm of a lifetime'

“This is looking kind of like a worst case scenario situation,” Burdette said. Burdette’s own home has been flooded, his family is safe, but he said he’s concerned for the residents who stayed behind and the ones who will rush in to clean up and in doing so will get the usual cuts and scrapes and get exposed to this water. “There will be ample opportunity to get sick,” he said. “To be really blunt and honest there are a lot of these farms upstream from homes that are flooded or will be flooded and it will wash through people’s homes and cover their belongings. Recovering from a flood is difficult. How do you come back from this I don’t know. It’s pretty terrible.”

Burdette questions why so many farms are built in flood planes. “There is no way to prevent this kind of catastrophe in a hurricane like this with the way we do animal agriculture in North Carolina,” he said.

Coal ash in flood waters

Hamilton is also concerned about the potential health threat of coal ash in the flood waters. “Coal ash will end up in everyone’s homes,” near those areas. It “will end up in the air and as they clean up,” she said.

Coal ash is industrial waster created by coal burning power plants. Coal ash contains the heavy metals including arsenic, lead and mercury which can can carry health risks.

With EPA rule change, worries linger for those near coal ash ponds

There was a failure at one of the landfills containing coal ash at the Sutton Plant in Wilmington, according to Regan. He said his department was on location inspecting the area. Duke Energy, which owns the property, is also on site doing an analysis.

Duke Energy spokesperson Erin Culbert said the company calculates about 2,000 cubic yards of ash material was displaced from the landfill. The company said it is unclear how much of the water came into contact with the coal ash.

“We don’t have any indication that the ash has gone to the cooling pond,” Culbert said adding that the company will continue to perform water testing. A small amount of ash and water did make it outside the landfill perimeter into an adjacent industrial site and Duke Energy working with the property owner to clean that up. They also detected multiple areas of erosion and are doing the initial repair work.

These are the staggering numbers behind Florence's wrath
Culbert said that coal ash itself is non-hazardous, and the company does not believe the incident is a threat to human health. They are also watching two other location the retired HF Lee Power Plant in Wake County that is ok for now, but there are low lying ash basins there that are forested and have flooded in the past, displacing some material. Duke Energy is also monitoring the retired Weatherspoon Plant near Lumberton where the nearby Jacob swamp had risen to overtop into the cooling pond, but the water has now receded and the company said it will do some additional inspections there.

“We believe this will not have an impact on the public,” Culbert said but they will monitor the situation. Coal ash does contain heavy metals that can be a threat to human health. Culbert said it contains trace elements of contaminants but she said it’s less than 1%.

Flooding with coal ash can make it’s way into streams that contaminate fish people eat and contaminate drinking water.

Wilma Subra, a chemist and environmental health scientist in Louisiana said people should be concerned about the coal ash being dispersed in people’s yards and homes. She cautioned people to use protective gear when cleaning up their homes. She said even health threats common in other hurricanes like exposure to sewage could be a problem.

“That’s what happened after Katrina. They went back and got boils on their legs,” from exposure to sewage Subra said. There are also toxic chemicals that can settle into the soil. “And if you go back and find two inches of yuck on your property so you handle your house and the grass starts growing and you never remove it from your yard. Then every time you mow your grass the sludge dried out will cause a dust and re-exposure over and over.”

Source