Spread of Farm Animal Waste, Algea Blooms Additional Toll of Hurricane Season

The threat to life and the environment doesn’t end after an extreme weather event like a hurricane passes. As seen during major hurricanes like Floyd and Irma, hard hit areas sustain long lasting environmental effects caused by animal waste overflows.

Meanwhile, water adjacent regions face additional threats from toxic red tides and poisonous blue-green algae blooms that are spread through hurricane activity. See the following two reports from the Center for Biological Diversity, which focuses on the Carolina regions; and PEER, which covers the potential fallout of Hurricane Florence in Florida. 

Hurricane Florence Exposes Factory-farm Manure’s Threat to North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C.— If Hurricane Florence hits North Carolina, manure released from overflowing or breached pits holding tens of millions of pounds of animal waste could create an extended threat to public health and the environment.

Just four counties in the flood-prone lower Cape Fear River basin house more than 30 million farm animals, which produce more than 40 billion pounds of animal waste annually, according to estimates by the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Millions of North Carolina residents face a truly sickening pollution risk because of weak safety measures at these factory farms,” said Hannah Connor, a Center attorney specializing in harms caused by factory farming. “This massive storm underscores the huge threat to water supplies  and public health. But the ongoing health risks posed by the billions of gallons of waste generated by factory farms won’t go away when floodwaters disappear.”

Additional health risks stem from so many of the state’s tens of millions of hogs, chickens and turkeys being housed in the storm’s path, creating the danger of mass mortalities and the hasty, unsafe disposal of carcasses.

This is not the first time a major storm event has uncovered the risks posed by massive industrial factory farms in North Carolina, which is home to the second-largest hog population in the country, as well as one of the largest turkey and poultry populations.

After Hurricane Floyd dumped as much as 20 inches of rain across the region in 1999, animal-waste lagoons overflowed directly into waterways and surrounding communities, prompting state officials to buy out some factory farms located in floodplains.

But dozens of factory farms remain inside the state’s 100-year floodplain. And despite the state’s pledge to reduce health and environmental risks posed by farmed animals and their waste during catastrophic floods, in 2016 Hurricane Matthew reportedly flooded at least 14 waste lagoons and killed tens of thousands, if not millions, of farm animals.  

Even during more routine weather events, the unchecked growth of massive, poorly regulated factory farms has left the region’s high water table and numerous waterways at constant risk of pollution. That’s because industrial hog and poultry production operations in the area rely on waste-management and disposal systems that are highly susceptible to harmful runoff and spills.

“These dangerous, loosely regulated factory farms pose an unacceptable threat to human health and to the welfare of millions of animals,” said Connor. “Until we move toward more sustainable farming practices and the Environmental Protiection Agency takes a more realistic approach to reducing these industrial operations’ harm to animals and the environment, the risks will only escalate.”

 – Center for Biological Diversity

Hurricanes Create Polluters Holiday in Florida

Tallahassee — Hurricanes and big tropical rainstorms unleash tides of pollution aggravating Florida’s twin plagues of toxic red tides and poisonous blue-green algae blooms, according to a new report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) looking at impacts from 2017’s Hurricane Irma. Florida has no effective tools to prevent concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from discharging oceans of manure and liquid wastes during big storms, injecting mountains of nitrogen and phosphorus into already vulnerable waterbodies.

The PEER report looks at 31 CAFO permits that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued in the seven-county area south of Orlando, with most in Okeechobee County directly to the north of Lake Okeechobee. These facilities hold approximately 90,000 dairy cows producing nearly two billion pounds of manure per year and more than 10 million gallons of wastewater each day.

Their DEP permits forbid any discharge except during “a 25-year/24-hour rainfall event” and then the permittee is supposed to ensure any discharge is “limited and monitored…and reported” to DEP. However, a PEER review of DEP records found that following Irma –

  • 28 of the 31 CAFOs filed no report even though all their waste lagoons were inundated;
  • DEP conducted no inspections of any of these facilities in the months of September and October 2017, either before or after the storm hit; and
  • CAFOs with past violations for issues such as faulty monitoring wells and breaches in lagoon berms received no enforcement action. DEP has inspected only 2 of the 11 facilities with violations since Irma.

“It is not clear what purpose these permits serve since DEP allows CAFOs to discharge millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorus-laden wastes into waters flowing into Lake Okeechobee,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney, noting that Lake O discharges millions of gallons into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee Rivers during the wet season. “It should be no mystery why Florida is suffering water quality crises.”

Because it did no monitoring and conducted no inspections, DEP does not know how much waste was discharged during Irma. Nor has it done a review of whether CAFO permits need to be revised, leaving the situation unchanged as Florida is in the middle of a new hurricane season.

“Florida took no environmental lessons away from Irma as DEP simply turned its head and looked elsewhere,” added Phillips, pointing out that due to climate change and other factors, 25-year storm events are occurring far more frequently than in 25-year intervals. “Extreme weather means that the 25-year storm exception has swallowed the CAFO no discharge rule.

 – PEER

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