agriculture, Environment

1,000+ dead fish: DEQ releases more troubling details on hog lagoon spill

Three million gallons of hog feces and urine killed more than 1,000 fish in Wagner Ditch/Plainveiw Pond, a half-mile from B&L Farms. Waste were also found in wetlands near Starlins Swamp, 1.35 miles away.

The breach of a hog lagoon that spilled 3 million gallons of feces and urine into streams, ponds and wetlands in the Cape Fear River Basin killed at least 1,000 fish — and occurred because of neglect and mismanagement.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality released more details yesterday about a June 12 spill at B&L Farms, north of Spivey’s Corner in Sampson County. Investigators found that Bryan McLamb, who raises hogs form Smithfield Foods, had allowed the level of waste to reach the top of the lagoon berm “for a prolonged period of time.”

According to their environmental permits, all farms must keep waste at certain levels below the top of the berm to prevent it from overflowing, especially when it rains. To accomplish this, farms pump the lagoon through spray the waste on their fields.

The day before the breach, it had rained 2 inches at the farm.

But McLamb chronically failed to manage the lagoon, investigators found. The waste levels had been so high and for such a long time that the earthen lagoon berm was saturated and “notably soft” when walked on. Vegetation along the crest of the berm had died because it had been inundated by the feces and urine.

And after the previous rain, McLamb did not inspect the lagoon to ensure it was intact and not overflowing. The lagoon marker had also been installed incorrectly, so the measurements were inaccurate.

As a result, on the morning of June 12, a Smithfield crew that had arrived at the farm to remove some pigs for slaughter, discovered the breach. But there were further delays in notifying the state. The crew relayed information first to Smithfield; at 9:40 a.m. Smithfield then called McLamb, who went to the farm to confirm the breach. McLamb then called the farm’s technical specialist, Curtis Barwick, who called DEQ shortly after 11.

By the time DEQ investigators arrived at the farm at 12:40 p.m. 3 million gallons of feces and urine had “coursed overland into wetlands, and surface waters, including Starlins Swamp, 1.35 miles from the lagoon. Investigators also documented waste and dead fish in the Wagner Pond about a half-mile from the lagoon, where there were “a minimum of one thousand dead fish including brim, catfish, bass, an eel, and other panfish.” Hog feces “were also documented in wetlands.”

Policy Watch reported earlier this week that subsequent testing by DEQ showed extremely high levels of fecal coliform bacteria — at least 3,000 times higher than water quality standards — in waters downstream.

In addition to neglecting the lagoon, McLamb had also failed to keep proper records of lagoon levels and spraying. Nor did he ever notify DEQ that his lagoon was too full, as required, even though McLamb said it had been for several months.

DEQ cited McClamb for multiple violations. He has 20 days to submit additional information and a written response. Afterward, DEQ will determine the fine.


  1. Michelle Nowlin

    July 17, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Smithfield Foods bears responsibility here, too. Their employees are regularly on-site, and their corporate documents – including contracts with growers – specify the measures they take to ensure their growers are in compliance with state and company mandates. They’ve also submitted sworn testimony in court to this effect. Assuming their statements are accurate, someone should have been aware of the problems on this operation months ago, and should’ve taken action to prevent this disaster.

  2. Keely

    July 17, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    Let’s see if DEQ submits a real fine to Mclamb.
    Most likely a slap on the wrist

  3. William Tom Butler, Sr

    July 18, 2020 at 5:20 pm

    This event is going to become common place in Eastern NC with the lagoon and spray field system that we have been trapped/strapped with under our current Swine Marketing Contract. This spill is not all the fault of the grower. The fault is with the integrator, NC Pork Council and the N C G A. Lagoons and spray fields should have been phased out at least 5 years ago. I am a NC contract farmer……..I know!

  4. William Tom Butler, Sr.

    July 18, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    This type of spill is going to become common place in Eastern NC in the near future. I am a NC Contract hog

    farmer and I know. I was trapped/strapped with 2 hog waste storage ponds 25 years ago when I signed a swine

    marketing contract with a local integrator. I have been a strong advocate for the past 12 years to phase out

    swine waste storage lagoons and spray fields but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. This sad event could partially

    be caused by poor lagoon management but the main blame goes straight to the N C General Assembly and their lack

    of ability to go against the strong political pork lobby and their resources. We have 3500 of the ticking time bombs in

    Eastern NC that out lived the 25 years of life they were designed for by NCSU. It is time for the NC Pork Council, pork

    consumers and the general public to wake up and demand that this problem be solved. New waste technology is

    available and affordable if the entire animal industry will adopt and use them in lieu of the antiquated spray field


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