Poultry, Pigs And Pollution

I have often stated that the Republicans are hazardous to your health. That is not hyperbole and today I want to back it up with a developing story from my backyard; well downriver from my backyard to be more accurate. Let’s explore.

North and South Carolina were devastated by Hurricane Florence. Fortunately I live in one of the few areas of the region where the damage was minor. I’m both fortunate and thankful! Many of my fellow Carolinians were not nearly as lucky and for some the worst is yet to come in fact it may not even be discovered for years or decades.

My original intention was to pack this article with a bunch of statistics. I’m writing this on Thursday afternoon with a Sunday morning publishing date. The reality is that the numbers are spiraling upward and any available now will certainly be obsolete (and unfortunately way too small) by the time you read this. As of this writing 3.4 million turkeys and chickens, along with 5,500 pigs, have died. That number can only grow and it will. Keep in mind that many farmers had to evacuate and as of yet have not returned to their farms. Regardless that is a lot of dead animals floating in rivers and newly spawned “rivers of floodwaters”. Despite the fact that the number is certainly an underestimate; that is the least of the problem.

Many of the farms are factory farms. Old McDonald had a few pigs and chicken spread over his many acres. Like their human “cousins”, pigs and chickens have their potty needs. In Old McDonald’s case the land could handle the excretions. In fact the land itself acted as nature’s filtration system. In the age of corporate factory farms we have packed so many animals into such a small space that nature’s filtration system is inadequate. The dominant method of handling the huge volume of urine and feces is to store it in open pits. (That is an oversimplification but you get the basic idea.) Essentially they dig a big hole in the ground and there it stays. When the rains overflow the ditches, creeks and rivers the pits overflow and the content that leaks out includes all those “animal byproducts”.

We know several things at this writing. In many places water levels haven’t reached their peak yet. It is already established that hundreds of pits have overflowed. Government environmental agencies and conservation groups have been unable to inspect the vast majority of sites. Many farmers, particularly family farm operations haven’t gotten back to the farm yet. It is impossible for the numbers to decrease and inevitable that they will increase – probably exponentially.

As if animal carcasses and their excrement weren’t bad enough we add the carcinogens contained in coal ash residue. Duke Energy, the major energy supplier in the region, stores the residue of the coal they burn in many of their generating plants in open pits. Many of those pits are located near rivers. When the pits overflow the polluted water ends up in the river. The rivers in this region all end up flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the storm surge washed water from the ocean into the river, effectively reversing the flow pattern, and the waters are trapped in upriver communities as the rivers overflow their banks. Bottom line: the pollutants end up in people’s water supplies, parks, backyards, schoolyards and playgrounds.

This is not the first time something like this happened has happened in the region. On Super Bowl Sunday 2014 the Duke Coal Ash Facility at Eden, North Carolina leaked 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River along with 27 million gallons of wastewater. The then governor of North Carolina was Republican and former 30-year Duke Energy employee Pat McCrory. He ordered state regulatory agencies to go easy on Duke Energy. Of course, he had the backing of the “business friendly” Republican majority North Carolina General Assembly. I personally remember attending one of the community meetings that Duke Energy held around the state in the aftermath of the event which polluted the drinking water supply of vast stretched of North Carolina and Virginia. During that meeting the Duke representatives flat out lied. They did it with what I am sure they considered fancy language but the bottom line is they revoked a promise they made in their opening statement before the meeting was fifteen minutes old. I don’t always use polite language and in my book that is a lie.

Aerial photos clearly show leakage from their coal ash pits. There is reason to question the figures Duke Energy is currently releasing because they simply defy logic when juxtaposed with the pictures. Add to that their history of “truthfulness”. I’ll let you connect those dots.

Now anybody with an elementary school education can quickly figure out that housing too many animals in too small a space will cause problems. Again it doesn’t take an Ivy League degree in Physics to figure out that if you have a lot of rain an already nearly full waste pit will overflow. Along those same lines since most of these pits are near waterways it won’t take much extreme weather for the pit and the waterway to “join forces”. The common sense precaution is to place some controls and limits on these activities. However, radical right wing groups like the Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly (who have been in the majority since 2011) feel it is important to be what they call “Business friendly” which means no regulations and not enforcing those already on the books. That means when the inevitable occurs the citizens will be left to suffer and bear the brunt of the costs. Although unstated, the policy of today’s GOP is to privatize the profits and socialize the losses (in this case the costs of cleanup). In the interim you and your kids get to “swim” in the dead poultry, pigs and their excrement “seasoned” with the dangerous and potentially deadly content of coal ash.

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