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.

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