Waterkeeper Alliance: Factory Farm Swine Operation Violates Clean Water Act
The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a notice of intent on Friday to sue an industrial swine feeding operation in order to stop illegal discharges of swine waste into groundwater, wetlands and streams that flow to North Carolina's Contentnea Creek and Neuse River watersheds.
The groups will file suit under the federal Clean Water Act if action is not taken to stop the swine waste discharges and clean up the Stantonsburg Farm Swine Facility within 60 days.
The Stantonsburg facility has a long history of illegal discharges and waste management problems, including a major discharge of raw swine waste to a tributary of Contentnea Creek on March 15, 2013, according to the Waterkeeper Alliance.
Wendell H. Murphy, Jr. owns and operates the factory swine farm, which confines more than 4,800 swine in Stantonsburg, NC for a Smithfield Foods subsidiary that was recently acquired by Hong Kong-based Shuanghui International Holdings.
People living near the Stantonsburg Facility have tried unsuccessfully to get the company and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) to help them deal with the odor, fly swarms, swine waste discharges and impacts to their water wells since the facility opened in the 1990s.
“Many of us grew up around here, and have deep connections to the land and waters. We caught crawdads, fished and swam in these waters and purchased land to maintain our connections to the area or have a place of our own that provided a good quality of life,” said Don Webb, a neighboring landowner who acquired property in the late 1980’s, which is adjacent to the swine facility.
“The smell, the flies and the pollution from this facility have destroyed our quality of life and causes constant stress. How would you feel if you couldn’t drink the water from your own well, go to church without the smell of hog waste permeating your clothing or even have a barbeque with friends on your own property?"
Swine waste contains pathogens, nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants that can cause fish kills, endanger swimmers, promote blooms of toxic algae and contaminates drinking water when discharged into public waters.
“Discharges of swine waste from the Stantonsburg facility are illegal under the Clean Water Act and have obvious impacts on neighboring landowners that should have merited immediate action from the NCDENR [North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources ],” said Larry Baldwin, CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] coordinator at Waterkeeper Alliance.
“Unfortunately, this is not a unique or isolated problem, but one we see across eastern NC. We will continue to document these discharges and take action to stop the most egregious violations, but NCDENR must start enforcing the Clean Water Act prohibitions on discharges of swine waste to NC waterways.”
This is the second Clean Water Act enforcement notice that the groups have had to issue this year to stop swine waste discharges from an industrial swine facility in the Neuse watershed.
There are approximately 500 industrial swine facilities housing roughly 1.8 million animals in the Neuse River watershed. NCDENR often claims that these animal feeding operations in the Neuse operate under state issued “no-discharge” permits, but also admits that swine waste is commonly and directly discharged to public waters from these operations through ditches—a violation of both state and federal law.
Industrialized swine production facilities that discharge pollutants are required to obtain Clean Water Act permits to prevent these discharges, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that only 14 Clean Water Act permits have been issued to the roughly 1,200 facilities in North Carolina by the NCDENR.
These waterways drive the local economy in the region, however, the Neuse Estuary regularly experiences algal blooms, fish kills and depletion of oxygen necessary to sustain the fishery as a result of excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.
The NCDENR acknowledges that its efforts to reduce pollution over the last two decades in the Neuse have failed to achieve “any significant decrease in actual nutrient loading to the estuary,” and that phosphorus pollution in these waterways has actually increased.
“The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation would like to work with the owners and operators of the Stantonsburg facility to address these serious issues and protect the community and Neuse watershed from illegal swine waste discharges,” said Jim Kellenberger, president of the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation.
“However, we must take action to address the mismanagement of swine waste and pollution discharges at this facility, and if the facility is unwilling to implement sound swine waste management practices, we will then be forced to file suit to enforce the law and protect the citizens of North Carolina.”
In January, the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a Notice of Intent to sue the current and former owners and operators of the Stilley swine feeding operation this week to stop illegal discharges of swine waste into groundwater, wetlands and streams that flow to the Trent River. Check out this slideshow for images of the Stilley Swine facility:
Feb. 27, Waterkeeper Alliance and North Carolina Riverkeepers called on the North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Steve Troxler, to protect public and environmental health against the swine industry’s handling of the porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus outbreak in the state. Check out these graphic and disturbing images of the PED epidemic:
Visit EcoWatch’s HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.
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The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
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Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
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