Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

An aerial view of White Oaks Farm in Wayne county, North Carolina, which produces more than 46.5 million gallons of waste per year and has two "waste lagoons" on site. (Photo: EWG-Waterkeeper Alliance)

Pools of Waste: Landmark Analysis Exposes Factory Farming Filth

The analysis makes clear: 'Animal feeding operations are degrading the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of rural residents.'

Deirdre Fulton

A new and unsavory analysis by Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Waterkeeper Alliance sheds light on the true impact that industrial factory farms are having on communities and waterways in North Carolina and beyond. 

On Wednesday, the groups released a set of first-of-their-kind interactive maps revealing the locations, size, and waste outputs of more than 6,500 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across North Carolina, leading researchers to what they call "an inescapable conclusion: Animal feeding operations are degrading the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of rural residents."

Among the data presented in the EWG–Waterkeeper maps and accompanying report, Fields of Filth:

  • 10 billion gallons of wet animal waste (swine and cattle) are 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.

These facilities and their poorly regulated waste disposal systems "send disease-causing microbes and toxic chemicals into surface water and air," the report says—killing fish, contaminating drinking water, and raising the risk for respiratory problems, among other health impacts.

"With the public record exemption afforded by state regulations, the [poultry] industry has exploded throughout this beautiful region, and these maps finally show just how extensive that growth is."
—Sam Perkins, Catawba Riverkeeper

Indeed, the analysis shows that Duplin and Sampson counties—which alone produced about 40 percent of the state's total wet animal manure and 18 percent of the dry waste—"are beset with numerous air and water quality problems," the groups point out. 

"Animal agriculture operations are one of the leading sources of water and air pollution in the country and are making people sick," said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of EWG. "These maps show for the first time, that thousands of CAFOs and the animal waste they produce are often adjacent to communities and vital water sources."

For instance, added Sam Perkins, the Catawba Riverkeeper:

We have 1,000 poultry houses in the Catawba River basin in North Carolina. With the public record exemption afforded by state regulations, the industry has exploded throughout this beautiful region, and these maps finally show just how extensive that growth is. Many of these operations cannot even take the simple measure of covering their waste piles with a simple tarp to prevent runoff. Downstream of many of these sites, the Catawba River is dammed into lakes, which serve as major regional drinking water reservoirs and provide tens of billions of dollars of property tax base critical to local economies. The toxin microcystin produced by harmful algal blooms—like those seen in eastern North Carolina and in Toledo, Ohio—fueled by nutrient runoff from these sites, would be disastrous for the Charlotte region.

Armed with the new data, aerial photos, and a better informed public, the groups will now push policymakers toward more effective regulation of industrial agriculture.

"For far too long, North Carolinians have been kept in the dark about the true impact these industrial factory farms are having on communities and waterways," said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance. "Information is power and now that these sites are definitively identified, we will hold accountable the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for enforcing the Clean Water Act and fixing these massive pollution problems."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Leads Charge Against Baby Formula Monopolies Amid US Shortage

Democrats urge the FTC to probe "any unfair or unsustainable practices, like deceptive marketing, price gouging, and stock buybacks, that may be weakening our nutritional formula supply."

Jessica Corbett ·

'This Is a War' for Democratic Party's Future, Says Sanders of AIPAC's Super PAC

"They are doing everything they can to destroy the progressive movement in this country," said the senator.

Julia Conley ·

Ginni Thomas Pressed Arizona Lawmakers to Reverse Biden's 2020 Win: Report

"Clarence Thomas' continued service on the Supreme Court is a scandalous and appalling breach of judicial ethics," said one observer. "He is implementing the exact same theories that his wife used to try to steal the 2020 election for Trump."

Brett Wilkins ·

Millions More Kids Going Hungry Since GOP, Manchin Killed Expanded Child Tax Credit

"Even brief disruptions in access to food can have lasting consequences," wrote the authors of a new analysis of worsening hunger among U.S. families.

Kenny Stancil ·

WHO to Convene Emergency Meeting on Monkeypox Outbreak

Leading public health experts plan to discuss the ongoing outbreak as the number of confirmed cases in the U.K. more than doubled on Friday to 20.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo