June 15, 6:59 p.m. This story has been updated with comments from the Department of Environmental Quality.
Three million gallons of feces and urine spilled from a hog lagoon Friday, as farm owners to tried to prevent the waste from entering a nearby swamp.
The lagoon breach occurred at B&L Farms, 2525 Plain View Highway, which is south of Dunn and north of Spivey’s Corner in Sampson County. The farm, owned by Bryan McLamb, reported the spill to the Department of Environmental Quality, as legally required. McLamb is a contract farmer for Smithfield.
DEQ said most of the waste was contained on the property, but an undetermined amount entered a ditch that leads to Starlins Swamp, part of the Cape Fear River Basin. DEQ is sampling the swamp area for fecal matter, pH readings, and various other nutrients and expect the results on Tuesday.
A temporary patch was applied to the lagoon, DEQ spokesman Robert Johnson said, and some of the animal waste was returned to the lagoon; other portions were pumped to the downstream pond and sprayed onto fields when the weather permitted.
B&L has a state permit to raise 2,480 hogs, which generate about 4,700 tons of waste per year, according to state records. The waste is stored in a two-acre lagoon, which is 10 feet deep.
The farm also had to remove the animals from the barns because of the spill. “Animal waste was not filling the barn, but the farm was depopulated for several reasons, including animals being sent to market and to ensure the rest had an adequate waste management system to support them,” Johnson said.
It’s unclear what caused the breach, a DEQ spokesman said.. About a half-inch of rain fell on Friday, according to the nearest official weather station at the Fayetteville Regional Airport. The previous 10 days had been dry.
The cause of the breach and the freeboard levels at the time of the breach are still under investigation.
DEQ inspection records show that last August the lagoon was in compliance, but the farm had reported “high freeboard” — the level of the waste in the lagoon to the top. The inspector noted that the farm would “continue working on the banks” and “would be removing sludge.”
The rural area is dense with hogs. According to DEQ records, within two miles of B&L four additional farms are permitted to raise more than 39,500 swine. By comparison, the census tracts containing those farms are home to fewer than 5,000 people. More than 40% of the residents are low-income, and 13% to 23% live in communities of color.