Bacteria from large-scale industrial hog farms in North Carolina are contaminating the homes, lawns and air of nearby private homes, according to new evidence.
The bacteria, called pig2bac, are a marker for pig feces, which contains hundreds of other pathogens many of which can make people sick.
The evidence was filed in federal court last Friday and comes as state Republicans are pushing forward a bill to shield large-scale farms from many of the legal claims that seek to recover damages from lost property value, health effects and overall suffering from living near hog farm pollution and smells.
The evidence was from a study by Shane Rogers, a professor and researcher at Clarkston University in New York, who tested the air and land and exterior walls of 17 homes near a Smithfield Foods hog confinement operation. The testing was done was done in 2016.
Rogers, who is an expert witness in a lawsuit by hundreds of people from North Carolina against a Smithfield Foods subsidiary, reported that 14 of the homes tested positive for the pig2bac bacteria.
In the six dust samples he collected from the air and yards of four residences he found “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of hog feces DNA particles.”
Finding pig2bac means there are a lot of feces particles floating around.
“The pig2bac marker is conservative for the presence of pig feces,” Rogers said in his written testimony. “This means that pig feces has to be in relatively high concentrations to facilitate its detection.”
The homes tested were anywhere from 615 feet to nearly a mile from the hog barns; from 458 feet to more than a mile from the manure pits; and 71 feet to two-thirds of a mile from where liquid manure is sprayed on fields as fertilizer.
“It is far more likely than not that hog feces also gets inside the client’s homes where they live and where they eat,” Rogers wrote.
Rogers noted smelling strong, sickening odors at every home he visited.
North Carolina is a top hog producing state and for years researchers and community members have warned that the large-scale confinement hog farms—which house thousands of hogs—are affecting neighbors’ health and property values.
Last month the environmental nonprofit group Environmental Working Group mapped North Carolinian’s proximity to confinement hog farms and found that 60,000 homes across the state are within a half mile of such farms or pits where hog manure is stored.
In Duplin County, the epicenter of industrial hog production in the state, more than one fifth of the 4,660 homes are within a half mile of a confinement hog farm or a manure pit.
Many residents have taken to litigation to fight the odors and pollution, but the state is trying to limit such lawsuits. Rogers’ testimony came as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed a state bill—House Bill 467—that sought to cap the amount of damages citizens could recoup in nuisance lawsuits against industrial hog farms. However, this week the Republican-dominated House voted to override Cooper’s veto.
Supporters of the bill, in part a response to 26 pending lawsuits in federal court against Smithfield Foods subsidiary Murphy-Brown, said it would give hog producers clarity on what damages can be awarded under nuisance lawsuit damages and protect farmers from lawyers that like to “sue farmers for as much money as possible,” according to a statement on the bill from the N.C. Pork Council.
Those opposed say the bill would limit the ability of those living near large hog farms to protect themselves against pollution and odors and the resulting health and quality of life concerns.
The 26 pending lawsuits were filed by more than 500 people in Eastern North Carolina who claim Murphy-Brown subjects them to wastewater, foul air, chronic sickness and decreased property values.
“We don’t want to shut down farms, we just want to stop the pollution,” said Naeema Muhammad, co-director for the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network.
House Bill 467 needs a Senate vote before becoming law.
“These folks’ ability to protect their families from airborne pig feces and once again enjoy their homes now rests with the state Senate,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, in a statement.
Brian Bienkowski is editor of Environmental Health News, where this article first appeared. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianBienkowski.