Exposing Fields of Filth

Landmark Report Maps Feces-Laden Hog and Chicken Operations in North Carolina

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Exposing Fields of Filth

Landmark Report Maps Feces-Laden Hog and Chicken Operations in North Carolina

North Carolina boasts the nation’s second biggest hog farming industry, worth $3 billion in hog and pig sales in 2012 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It ranks third among the states for poultry production

Over two decades alone, North Carolina’s swine population has nearly doubled, from 5.1 million in 1992 to 9.5 million by 2012, according to the USDA Census of Agriculture. During the same period, the state’s broiler chicken production increased by 60 million, to 148 million animals.

This boom in production has delivered financial benefits, but also dire environmental consequences to North Carolina’s verdant backcountry and the people who live in it.

 Simply put, the more animals you have, the more waste you have to deal with.

10 billion gallons of wet animal waste are produced each year in North Carolina


A new analysis by EWG and Waterkeeper Alliance shows that wet waste, primarily from pigs, in North Carolina's  industrial agricultural operations produce almost 10 billion gallons of fecal waste yearly, enough to fill more than 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Thousands of poultry feeding operations housing more than 200 million birds create  2 million tons of dry waste per year (EWG-Waterkeepers 2016).

Poultry housed in CAFO facilities outnumber residents 20 to 1 in North Carolina

The geographic density of these operations threatens the rural environment and its residents. The analysis shows that Duplin and Sampson counties alone produced about 40 percent of the state’s total wet animal manure and 18 percent of the dry waste. Nestled near the Atlantic coast, these counties are beset with numerous air and water quality problems.   

In 2014, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance, supported by EarthJustice, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Civil Rights, arguing that North Carolina’s lax regulation of hog waste disposal disproportionately affected communities of color in rural areas.

Farmers often apply bacteria-laden animal waste to agricultural fields as fertilizer or it’s dumped in open pits euphemistically called “waste lagoons.”  They are really open dumps for filth, and they send disease-causing microbes and toxic chemicals into surface water and air.  

Until recently, many North Carolinians were unaware of the actual size and scope of the animal waste pits. EWG and Waterkeepers research found more than 4,100 of them extending over 6,800 acres, often located in low-lying spots near bodies of water.

There are 4,145 waste pits that make up 6,848 acres of North Carolina's Countryside

EWG and Waterkeepers have created a series of interactive maps, the first of their kind, to enable citizens, lawmakers and policymakers to visualize and interpret the state’s swine, poultry and cattle operations by zooming in on selected areas. These maps are meant to serve as investigative tools to empower people to assess the social and environmental impacts of industrialized animal farms in their backyards.

EWG and Waterkeepers launched the mapping project to fill in yawning gaps in the North Carolina state agricultural regulatory system. The state regulates swine operations, requiring them to obtain permits and meet reporting obligations. But because of legal exemptions from regulation, the general public cannot find out salient facts about the state’s thousands of poultry operations.


EWG and Waterkeepers researchers created the maps by harnessing a variety of federal and state geographical data and by analyzing high-resolution aerial photography. The aerial images allowed researchers to quantify the length and breadth of pig waste pits, and to determine the locations and numbers of barns at poultry operations.

The researchers drew on government and academic data to supplement these analyses.

The EWG-Waterkeepers study confirms and expands on earlier research to reach an inescapable conclusion: Animal feeding operations are degrading the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of rural residents.

To protect the citizens of North Carolina, and their landscape and natural resources, policymakers must demand more accountability and bring about more effective regulation of industrial livestock agriculture.

Below are some of the newly available, alarming results generated from the EWG – Waterkeeper maps:

  • 10 billion gallons of wet animal waste (swine and cattle) produced each year in North Carolina, the equivalent of 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
  • Annually, poultry operations in the state produce more than 2 million tons of dry animal waste.
  • 4,145 waste pits make up 6,848 acres of North Carolina's countryside.
  • 37 waste pits are within a half mile of a school.
  • 288 waste pits are within a half mile of a church.
  • 136 waste pits are within a half mile of a public water well.
  • 170 waste pits are within the state’s 100-year floodplain.
  • Poultry housed in CAFO facilities outnumber residents by 20 to 1.
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