Update, Sept 18: More hog manure lagoons have flooded. Read the latest here.
Floodwaters from Hurricane Florence have breached the wall of one hog-poop lagoon and flooded four more in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Pork Council. An additional seven hog manure lagoons “are at capacity due to rainfall and appear to have overtopped,” as of 9 p.m. on September 17, according to the council.
“While there are more than 3,000 active lagoons in the state that have been unaffected by the storm, we remain concerned about the potential impact of these record-shattering floods,” the council said.
North Carolina is one of the biggest hog-farming states in the US—second only to Iowa—and its two biggest hog-farming counties were directly in the path of the storm. About 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste are produced in the state a year.
The hog farms, home to more than 9 million pigs, generate a tremendous amount of poop. Hog farmers store it in uncovered, earthen lagoons. Waste from the lagoons is sprayed on crop fields as fertilizer.
Flooding from Florence—now downgraded to a tropical depression—is far from over. It is already the worst rainstorm to hit the East Coast of the US in recorded history.
Until today, the council had said no lagoons had suffered damage in the storm. Mark Sobsey, professor of environmental sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Bloomberg that seemed unlikely as a final outcome, since flooding was particularly bad in Duplin County, where two people had died. Duplin is home to 45 times as many hogs as its human population, according to Bloomberg.
“If farmland is completely submerged, it’s a good chance swine farms are completely submerged,” Sobsey said. “I’d like to see some evidence to show that somehow swine farms and lagoons have been magically spared as everything else fell under water,” he said. “It’s just a little bit hard to believe.”
The pork council says it will continue to monitor the situation.
This post was updated at 10 a.m. ET with additional hog poop lagoon flooding numbers.