Hurricane Florence ripped through North Carolina dumping feet of rain and causing the flooding of many rivers throughout the state. Homes were destroyed, lives lost, and many are still living in shelters and uncertain about what they will return to when all the water subsides. One of the great dangers from this storm in particular, is the loss of animals in industrial farming and even more importantly, the exposure to dangerous discharges from the overflowing of animal waste storage.
North Carolina has a very large agricultural sector. As part of this, there are many poultry and pig farms throughout the state. At the moment, it is estimated that over 5500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens and turkeys have died in the state as a result of the storm. Several aerial pictures available on different news outlets show industrial barns that are almost completely submerged in the floodwater, with only the roof showing. It is anticipated that even more animals could die from the effects of the storm since some farms are cut-off and unable to receive supplies such as feed and clean water. Some farmers tried to move their animals to higher ground in advance of the storm, but many may not have been able to because of the sheer number of animals they have.
In addition to the animal deaths, there is now the danger to humans from the overflowing of swine lagoons. Swine lagoons are holes in the ground that collect the feces and urine from the pigs that fall below the slats of the industrial barns and are then pumped into the lagoons. These lagoons have a pink hue from the anaerobic bacteria that are introduced into the lagoon to help digest the waste. The floods are causing some of these lagoons to overflow and spill pig wastes. As of noon on September 19, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality reports that 5 swine lagoons have structural damage; 21 lagoons have discharges (overtopping); 17 are inundated by surface water; 36 have no room for more waste and discharge is likely; and 31 have between 0 and 3 inches of space from the top of the lagoon dam to the surface of the waste in the lagoon. The release of lagoon waste can cause algal blooms in bodies of water and kill off marine life. It can also be harmful to those humans with compromised immune systems.