North Carolina environmentalists are claiming that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality violated their civil rights—especially those of Black, Latinx and Native residents—by allowing the industrial hog industry to pollute air and water.
Yesterday (October 5), organizers headed to EPA offices in Washington, D.C., to hand officials a petition with over 90,000 signatures demanding the agency investigate the industry in North Carolina. Groups have waited more than two years for the EPA to do so; environmental law firm Earthjustice filed a civil rights complaint against them in 2014 “after the state permitted industrial hog operations without conducting the disparate impact review required under the Civil Rights Act,” according to a statement sent to Colorlines. Today, at least five community leaders will testify at a Capitol Hill briefing in hopes to gain congressional support.
The statement described the problem as:
Industrial hog operations store manure in “lagoons,” before spraying it across nearby fields. Exposure to manure causes eye irritation, coughing and gagging, breathing problems and headaches for residents living in the midst of these industrial hog operations. The smell of hog waste permeates air inside homes and residents’ clothes and personal belongings. Residents no longer rely on well water for fear of contamination. Residents who have complained about the problems have been subjected to an environment of intimidation.
Elsie Herring, the North Carolina resident from Duplin Country who started the petition, is testifying at the briefing. She lives just “feet away from industrial hog operation spray fields,” according to the statement. She said in the petition:
I’ve had the contract grower next door call me a “bitch” repeatedly because of my complaints. I’ve had men on my property with guns to intimidate me. I’ve had local authorities with connections to the hog industry tell me defending my right to clean air and water could put me in prison.
This problem has existed for at least 16 years. The journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a study in 2000 citing environmental injustice in the industry, the country’s second highest provider of pig products. Back then, hog operations were five times more common in non-White communities than in White communities.