Dead hogs likely threat to water quality

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
By Gray Jernigan and Larry Baldwin | Waterkeeper Alliance | Special to the County Compass
All photos by Waterkeeper Alliance
Dead hogs outside a swine facility in eastern North Carolina. Photo taken February 2014.

Dead hogs outside a swine facility in eastern North Carolina. Photo taken February 2014.

EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA – In an open letter to Steve Troxler, Commissioner for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, staffers with the Waterkeeper Alliance plead for remediation in the way hog carcasses are being disposed of in the wake of widespread Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea, commonly referred to as PED:

Waterkeeper Alliance and the undersigned Waterkeeper Organizations are writing to you to demand urgent action on the part of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to address the imminent and substantial risks to human health posed by the swine industry’s disposal of the massive swine mortality associated with ongoing spread of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PED) virus that is affecting swine operations across North Carolina. While we understand that the PED virus does not directly impact human health, improper management of the swine mortality caused by PED does pose as serious threat of adverse health effects for North Carolinians.

More than 400 North Carolina hog farms, most located in the coastal plain, have been infected with PED, an acronym for the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea.

More than 400 North Carolina hog farms, most located in the coastal plain, have been infected with PED, an acronym for the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea.

The first diagnosis of PED in the United States was confirmed on May 17, 2013. In under a year, the virus has infected hogs in half of all states, and according to the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the week of February 2, 2014, marked the record high for new cases reported since the start of the outbreak. North Carolina ranks third in the nation with 414 facilities infected with PED to date. North Carolina is the second largest hog producing state in the country, but it has the highest density of hog operations, mostly concentrated in the coastal plain. This high concentration of swine feeding operations makes disease transmission across facilities almost inevitable, and therefore efforts to curb transmission must be highly organized and coordinated.


Advertisement

PED infects pigs causing severe diarrhea and dehydration leading to death, especially in infant swine. Much emphasis has been placed on the negative economic impact that PED is having on the swine industry due to massive numbers of hog deaths. However, a significant risk to public health is looming with the disposal of those carcasses. Following previous mass casualty disasters, such as Hurricane Floyd in 1999, problems encountered include contamination of drinking water, fly control, odor control, and possible zoonotic disease introduction such as Leptospirosis, Salmonellosis, and Tetanus. These serious issues can be avoided with proper handling of PED mortality.

Makeshift Pipe to Transport Swine Waste to NC Stream

Makeshift Pipe to Transport Swine Waste to NC Stream

According to the 2011 Animal Burial Guidelines developed by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the disposal of animal carcasses due to massive swine mortality was a “significant problem” in 1999 and “[p]roper burial and disposal will prevent potential public health problems resulting from large numbers of dead and decaying animals including the spread of harmful pathogens, ground and surface water contamination, and pest control.” This statement reflects an obvious and widely held view that appropriate management of swine mortality is essential to protection of public health.

Following up on reports from concerned citizens, we have observed alarming numbers of dead hogs being handled in an unsafe manner in our state. Facilities posted with signage warning of the presence of PED are becoming noticeably more prevalent. “Dead boxes” used by swine feeding facilities to send hog carcasses for disposal off-site are being observed overflowing with dead and decomposing hogs, and surrounded by pools of

Raw Swine Waste Discharged to NC Stream

Raw Swine Waste Discharged to NC Stream

blood and carrion. Blood and other fluids pool on the wet ground, leach into groundwater and can runoff through ditches on the facilities resulting in contaminated public waterways. Flies and vultures swarm and pick at the flesh of dead hogs, and serve as a viable zoonotic disease transmission source. Rendering plants are at capacity, and we have observed carcasses sitting out for days on end waiting for transport.

We have also had reports of mass burials of hogs on the premises of swine feeding facilities. Many of these facilities are located in areas surrounded by wetlands and waterways where shallow groundwater is prevalent. Decomposing bodies in such areas pose the risk of contaminating groundwater in rural areas where many citizens get their drinking water from groundwater wells. Contaminants leaching into nearby surface waters pose significant public health concerns, especially in a region where aquatic recreation and fishing is prevalent.

We are gravely concerned about the impacts of this problem on public health, and the citizens of North Carolina deserve answers to questions about the nature of this problem, the risks to public health and North Carolina’s immediate plan to ensure that the industry and government are appropriately handling swine mortality.

Fish Kill and Sores in NC Estuary

Fish Kill and Sores in NC Estuary

North Carolina must be prepared to swiftly and appropriately respond to mass mortality resulting from the PED outbreak. We have made efforts to obtain information about the scale and extent of this outbreak and the carcass disposal problem in North Carolina from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (“NCDENR”). We have requested information on the number of fatalities, number and location of infected facilities and disposal sites, and measures employed to control the spread of this virus. Despite diligent research and reaching out to public officials in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Veterinary Division and the NCDENR’s Division of Water Resources, we have not been able to obtain reliable or sufficient information about this issue or what North Carolina is doing to address this serious public health problem. Emergency plans must be in place, carcass disposal must be handled in accordance with well-established standards that are protective of public health, and the public must be advised about the nature, scope and plans to address this serious problem.

Buzzards and Dead Swine - NC February 2014

Buzzards and Dead Swine – NC February 2014

According to Dr. Tom Ray, Director of Animal Health Programs-Livestock for the North Carolina. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department does not have a current list of facilities that are PED positive, does not have a full list of counties affected by the outbreak, does not maintain data on the number of hog fatalities due to PED, and is not taking any action on safe and proper disposal of carcasses, but is rather leaving disposal in the hands of the swine industry.

This course of action, or lack thereof, on the part of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is obviously inadequate as the prevalence of PED becomes more widespread by the day and the corresponding risks to the public from improper carcass disposal practices increases. It is also difficult to understand why the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services does not possess such basic information about this serious problem given their regulatory duties for oversight of carcasses disposal and monitoring of disease outbreak, especially considering the fact that some of the information we requested is available through a simple Internet query.

Editor’s note: Founded in 1999 by environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and several veteran Waterkeeper Organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. For more information, see www.waterkeeper.org

 

x Shield Logo
This Site Is Protected By
The Shield →