"CAFOs and Environmental Justice: The Case of North Carolina"

"On the coastal plain of eastern North Carolina, families in certain rural communities daily must deal with the piercing, acrid odor of hog manure—reminiscent of rotten eggs and ammonia—wafting from nearby industrial hog farms. On bad days, the odor invades homes, and people are often forced to cover their mouths and noses when stepping outside. Sometimes, residents say, a fine mist of manure sprinkles nearby homes, cars, and even laundry left on the line to dry."

"Today’s industrial-scale farms—called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—house thousands of animals whose waste is periodically applied to 'spray fields' of Bermuda grass or feed crops. The waste can contain pathogens, heavy metals, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the spray can reach nearby homes and drinking water sources. The odor plume, which often pervades nearby communities, contains respiratory and eye irritants including hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. A growing body of research suggests these emissions may contribute not only to mucosal irritation and respiratory ailments in nearby residents but also decreased quality of life, mental stress, and elevated blood pressure.

Although the Midwest is the traditional home for hogs, with Iowa still the top-producing state, North Carolina went from fifteenth to second in hog production between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. This explosive growth resulted in thousands of CAFOs located in the eastern half of the state—squarely in the so-called Black Belt, a crescent-shaped band throughout the South where slaves worked on plantations. After emancipation many freed slaves continued to work as sharecroppers and tenant farmers. A century later, black residents of this region still experience high rates of poverty, poor health care, low educational attainment, unemployment, and substandard housing."

Wendee Nicole reports for Environmental Health Perspectives June 1, 2013.

Source: EHP, 06/03/2013