Billions of Gallons of Animal Waste From Factory Farms Poses Health Risks in Wake of Hurricane Matthew
Reports emerging Thursday of dead farm animals and breached manure pits highlight a health risk that will linger long after Hurricane Matthew's floodwaters recede: The threat of pollution from the billions of gallons of animal waste stored at North Carolina's loosely regulated factory farms.
The immensity of the ongoing threat to human health and the environment across a coastal plain clustered with factory farms is demonstrated by the fact that just four counties in the severely flooded lower Cape Fear River basin are home to 36.5 million farm animals, producing more than 40 billion pounds of animal waste annually, according to research by the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Our hearts go out to the tens of thousands of North Carolinians whose lives have been turned upside down by the horrible flooding," said Hannah Connor, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney specializing in harms caused by factory farming. "Sadly they've been put at additional long-term risk by the threat of pollution of their waterways and groundwater from billions of gallons of largely untreated animal waste at these industrial operations."
Millions of Chickens Feared Dead at Factory Farms in Wake of Hurricane Matthew https://t.co/nM8nDJiflQ @Waterkeeper @RobertKennedyJr @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1476283459.0
This is not the first time a major storm event has exposed the risks posed by factory farms in North Carolina, which is home to the second-largest hog population in the country as well as one of its largest poultry populations.
During Hurricane Fran in 1996, 22 animal waste pits in the state were reportedly ruptured or overflowed. A major manure spill was reported following Hurricane Bonnie in 1998, and after Hurricane Floyd dumped as much as 20 inches of rain across the region in 1999, animal-waste lagoons overflowed directly into waterways and surrounding communities.
Even during more routine weather events, the unchecked growth of massive, poorly regulated factory farms has left the region's high water table and numerous waterways at constant risk of pollution from the industrial hog and poultry production operations that rely on waste management and disposal systems that are highly susceptible to harmful runoff and spills.
The escalating environmental risks posed by poorly regulated animal waste will be highlighted in a forthcoming report from the center identifying the 10 areas across the nation where factory farms produce the greatest amounts of sewage—most of it virtually untreated.
"Unfortunately the environmental health risks posed by the billions of gallons of waste generated by factory farms won't go away when Matthew's floodwaters disappear," said Connor. "Until we move toward more sustainable farming practices, and the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] takes a more realistic approach to reducing the harm these industrial operations have on animals and the environment, the risks are only going to escalate."
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By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.