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Duplin County: Life Under the Waste Sprayer

Duplin County, North Carolina is the epicenter for industrial swine production in the United States. Housing an estimated 2.2 million hogs, this dot on the map shoulders more than its fair share of the world’s swine production load. I showed up last summer to film the stories of those trying to protect the water, land, and air that these hog farms influence so profoundly.Swine farm and lagoon

First, what’s the problem? Everyone loves pig right? Vitamin B (bacon) is certainly a staple of my brunch diet. In short, the sheer number of hog farms that have slid into this predominantly minority, low-income community has stressed its environment to the max. A pig produces about ten times as much waste as a human does, yet has almost none of the regulations on how it’s disposed.

In North Carolina, contract farmers working under the umbrella of a far away corporation have few choices on how to handle the hog waste from the scores of animals they are forced to grow to stay profitable. This waste typically flushes into “lagoons” then when the that fills up, farmers spray the tepid liquid waste filled with the most unimaginable grossness on to fields as fertilizer. This works in many cases, but all too often overstressed farmers (no one has it easy here) over-apply and allow runoff into local streams, all the while pumping the air full of toxic stench. The standard industry response that “it’s not that bad” doesn’t cut it for some.

René
Duplin County resident René lives immediately adjacent to a hog waste sprayer.

Enter René (family name withheld.) She lives in the same neighborhood she grew up in, a house handed down from her mother. In the late 1990s an industrial swine “farmer” set up a spray field across the street from her house. Several times every week, the “farmer” pumps this grotesque cocktail of pig excrement into the air 20 yards from her front door. René has developed respiratory issues, and can’t go outside without quickly becoming hoarse. She no longer can hang clothes to dry or work in her garden, lingering outside just long enough to get to her car to go to and from work.

Despite these hardships René still manages to smile and get along with her life. Although she has much to be afraid of, she carries no fear, no hatred, and says she’ll speak out until her last breath. Her story is not unique, but her courage is.

A Dead Truck hoists dead a dead box into the truck bed.
A Dead Truck hoists dead a dead box into the truck bed.

Numerous groups are taking on the science behind what’s happening to the air and water around these “farms.” Devon Hall, co-founder of Rural Empowerment Association for Community Health (REACH) is spreading the scientific gospel as a way to empower these communities to speak up about these injustices. The Waterkeeper Alliance also leads countless research efforts to document, in clear black and white, what these polluters are doing. Merely imagining breathing in pig excrement and drinking tainted water supplies doesn’t do much to convince an industry-owned government of anything. Duplin County is finding science as savior and rising up to prove, in no uncertain terms, it is that bad

The Water Is for Fighting project documents the challenges facing our nations freshwater resources. Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting these stories through film, still pictures and words.

Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015

“Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

Industrial Swine Farms as far as the eye can see

Comments

  1. Ann Frederick
    Warsaw
    July 30, 11:03 pm

    For one no one should have to ” pick up and move”. We never asked for a pig farm in our front and back door. We.were born and raised in this neighborhood and if any body should go it needs to be this pig farm. I never seen a pig farm in a predominantly white neighborhood. We have children in this neighborhood that plays outside in this infectious air and drinking water that is probably tainted . Would you want this pig farm in your neighborhood that you was raised in?

  2. Amanda
    NC
    July 25, 12:43 pm

    Unfortunately, its not as easy as “pick up and move” for most people. For one, who would buy foul, polluted land with a feces sprayer operating 100 ft. away? That point of view is unrealistic, so poor, vulnerable communities remain where they are, at the mercy of the polluters.

  3. Ruth Renwick
    British Columbia Canada
    July 22, 3:10 pm

    Environmental concerns are very imporant as the Earth is dying. Super meat that can be grown from cells will replace these farms and save the planet in a few decades anyway. They can get a different kind of job that wont hinder the environment and will perhaps contribute to its healing.

  4. Ruth Renwick
    Canada
    July 22, 3:08 pm

    There are new viable alternatives to filling up the land and air with toxins..read about it and learn. we will all sink into the toxic mire in the end with the old attitudes of having a job trumps environmental concerns.

  5. Summer W
    July 21, 1:00 pm

    After NAFTA shut down the textile companies, the hog industry was a welcome source of income for the area. Seems people don’t think about how bad things would’ve been these last 20+ years without the hogs!

  6. samantha brice
    duplin county
    July 20, 9:00 pm

    My question is who was there first. Most hog farms have been on the same spot for 20 years or longer and people knowingly move right next door and then complain. What about the children who’s father goes to work everyday on their hog farm to feed his family. My opinion is if you don’t like it move.