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30,000 gallons of hog waste from Murphy-Brown Farm enters creek in Bladen County

The release occurred at Farm 7692, where 30,000 gallons of hog waste entered Turnbull Creek. (Google maps)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality is investigating the discharge of an estimated 30,000 gallons of hog waste from a farm owned by Murphy-Brown, according to a press release from state officials. The farm is in Bladen County, northwest of Ammon and southwest of Roseboro. It has a state permit to raise as many as 4,000 hogs.

 

Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, is the parent company of Murphy-Brown.

Operators notified the Division of Water Resources Friday evening that a recirculation pipe had failed, which caused the release. DEQ did not name the waterway, but the closest ones are Turnbull Creek and Little Turnbull Creek. State investigators saw waste in the creek nearly three-quarters of a mile from the farm lagoon. A beaver dam prevented the waste from traveling farther. Turnbull Creek feeds the Cape Fear River about 20 miles downstream.

Farm operators are pumping the waste from the creek, state officials wrote.

The state database that contains compliance, enforcement and inspection documents for all permitted hog farms was down Sunday morning, so the history of this facility was not immediately available.

This farm is one of 144 corporate-owned facilities in North Carolina. Most of the state’s 2,200 hog farms are contract farms, meaning they are independently owned but Smithfield dictates every aspect of their operation.

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Riverkeepers discover extremely high levels of fecal bacteria in waterways near major hog waste spill that was reportedly cleaned up

This photo, taken by the Neuse Riverkeeper and Tar-Pamlico Riverkeeper on Aug. 23, shows the digester illegally operating three months after the original disaster. (Courtesy photo)

Two North Carolina riverkeepers have documented high levels of fecal bacteria in Wayne County waterways near White Oak Farms, raising questions about the thoroughness of the cleanup of a major swine waste spill last year.

White Oak Farms near Fremont hasn’t raised hogs since December 2020, but operated a biodigester that used dead pigs, deli meat and other waste to generate methane for electricity.

In May 2022, The News & Observer reported, the cover of the biodigester ruptured, sending millions of gallons of contaminated waste into nearby waterways, including Nahunta Swamp.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality fined the farm $34,000 for groundwater quality violations in early December 2022.

Shortly after DEQ announced the fine, Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jill Howell collected samples from channels running directly off the farm property and draining into Nahunta Swamp.

The swamp is a “jurisdictional water,” meaning it is subject to regulations under the federal Clean Water Act.

For comparison, Krop and Howell also collected a sample upstream of the farm.

Downstream, fecal coliform levels on that day ranged from four to 100 times the standard for freshwater. However, for regulatory purposes the state requires five consecutive samples to be taken during a 30-day period. Nonetheless, the extremely high levels of bacteria merit additional testing.

The riverkeepers submitted their samples to Jonah Ventures, which uses DNA techniques to determine the source of fecal contamination. That testing confirmed the main source of fecal contamination in the samples was swine.

Levels of E. coli were also detected at four to eight times the EPA’s recreational standard. North Carolina does not have E. coli standards for its waterways, even though the EPA recommends using that method to better protect human health.

Concentrations of nitrates and ammonia, common in waste, were also elevated in the downstream samples.

Pollutants in the upstream sample were much lower than those downstream and met applicable state water quality standards. Read more

Hog farm that used dead pigs, spoiled meat as fuel for biogas digester fined $34K

 

This photo, taken by the Neuse Riverkeeper and Tar-Pamlico Riverkeeper on Aug. 23, shows the digester operating in violation of the farm’s permit three months after the original disaster. (Courtesy photo)

Millions of gallons of feces, liquified hogs and old meat illegally discharged from a lagoon into wetlands and the Nahunta Swamp.

Levels of ammonia in the groundwater at more than 17 times legal limits.

Failure to monitor or provide reports for fecal coliform, as well as for operation and maintenance.

These are just three of the 15 environmental violations amassed this year by White Oak Farms in Fremont, a former hog operation that generated biogas in an anaerobic digester, state documents show.

Yesterday the NC Department of Environmental Quality fined the Wayne County farm just $34,520.

Last May the farm reported to DEQ that the cover of the 970,000-gallon anaerobic digester ruptured, sending millions of gallons of foam — essentially liquified animals, manure and meat — into nearby wetlands. However, later in the summer during a routine flyover, Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop noticed the farm was still apparently violating the terms of its permit and notified state officials. The News & Observer first reported on the incident in late August.

In June 2019, the farm began legally operating a biodigester to capture the methane from that hog waste. In turn the farm sold small amounts of electricity to Duke Energy, enough to power about 400 homes. The following year, the state approved a permit modification allowing the farm’s owners, B&B Partnership — Deborah and Todd Ballance — to include up to 10 tons of food waste from Smithfield’s Kinston plant per day, and as much as 105 tons of dead pigs to generate methane. However, state records show on several occasions, White Oak accepted more food waste than permitted.

When the violations occurred this year with the biodigester, White Oak had been “depopulated,” since December 2020, nearly 18 months, meaning that it was no longer raising the 65,000 swine allowed by its general permit. Without pigs to provide additional waste to generate methane, the farm deposited more dead hogs and meat into the digester — essentially a covered waste lagoon.

“The operation has operated beyond the scope of what is approved under the facility’ s permit, including introduction of unapproved products,” a DEQ letter to B&B Partnership reads. . The lagoons were also too full — also known as freeboard — which put them at risk of breaching. And based on state field observations, there had likely been other illegal discharges. “… Either prior or ongoing waste releases have impacted an area” extending toward Nahunta Swamp.

During an onsite inspection after the 2022 incident, DEQ noted that “air quality and odors observed over the incident were objectionable.”

In addition to high levels of ammonia in groundwater, nitrates exceeded state standards by 6.5 times, according to DEQ records.

State records show the farm owners’ earlier hubris in violating the terms of its biodigester permit. In 2021, the farm didn’t monitor for ammonia in its air emissions, according to state documents, because the owners claimed that without pigs onsite “ammonia emissions will be so low compared to other waste sources.”

DEQ replied: “Operational changes do not allow you to unilaterally decide which permit conditions are applicable.”

The $34,000 penalty is the third-largest fine the state has assessed against a hog farm in the past six years. In 2020, B&L Farms near Spivey’s Corner in Sampson County was fined more than $87,000, Policy Watch reported at the time. And in 2018, Lanier Farms in Jones County was penalized $64,000, but only after racking up violations for 12 years.