Hurricane Florence Deluges North Carolina Communities With Coal Ash and Manure

Aerial views of areas affected by Hurricane Florence are grim: mile after mile of flooded land, with water rising up to rooftops — and sometimes swallowing buildings altogether. But a closer look at those images reveals something even more troubling: Plumes of hog manure and coal ash are moving through those floodwaters, primarily in low-income communities of color.

This pollution will create a legacy that will linger for years, and it was both predictable and preventable.

North Carolina hosts over 2,000 hog farms with some nine million pigs – nearly as many pigs as people in the state, in other words. Many of those farms are located in rural low-income communities heavily populated by people of color, and that’s not a coincidence. No one wants to live with a stinky mess next door, but only some individuals have the resources to fight industrial farms and their accompanying pollution.

Lawmakers have historically sided with factory farmers, not the communities they affect. One consequence of that has been limited liability for issues caused by hog farms, including massive amounts of animal waste.

Hog farms don’t just smell horrific thanks to the close confinement of millions of animals who in nature are actually quite clean and fastidious. The close quarters generate huge volumes of manure, which farmers store in vast waste lagoons that are eventually dispersed with sprayers. These lagoons periodically rupture even at the best of times, spelling feces into waterways, but the flooding caused by the storm has really exacerbated this problem – despite farmers’ best attempts to drain the pools in advance of the storm. Plus, flooding will kill thousands of farm animals, adding a particularly macabre pollutant to the mix.

Pools of pig poo aren’t the only thing North Carolina residents are worried about. Coal ash, generated by coal-fired power plants, also poses a serious threat. While companies like Duke Energy keep insisting that coal ash isn’t as terrible as people make it out to be, scientists tend to disagree: Floodwaters are indeed pushing coal ash from containment pits into the environment. And thanks to Trump administration policy changes, the rules for storing coal ash have been relaxed, increasing the risks of this kind of pollution.

Even though coal-fired plants are slowly being phased out, utilities are still dealing with massive piles of waste that they need to manage. Some of these pits are being excavated and treated, while others are being left in place for the time being. Unfortunately, many coal plants are located near bodies of water because the water acts as a cheap source of coolant. And this means that when storage pits are breached, the contents often spill directly into a waterway.

Tougher storage rules, clear plans for historic storms and, of course, a reduction in industrial agriculture could have helped mitigate these issues in advance. In fact, there’s been a historic trend to move storage facilities like these to higher ground precisely because of concerns about storms, but clearly these efforts haven’t been comprehensive enough.

The hog waste and coal ash will join other plumes of toxic material that enter floodwaters as they move across the landscape, including fuel from underground storage tanks and industrial waste from other sources. Low-lying communities will be affected most, and a combination of classism and racism means that many of these neighborhoods will lack the resources they need to pay for cleanup, or to hold the responsible parties accountable. And in the meantime, their homes and businesses will be ruined.

Under the Obama administration, federal agencies took issues like environmental justice seriously. But budget cuts and policy shifts under Trump have made these initiatives less robust. The current situation in North Carolina highlights the huge cost of those decisions.

Photo Credit: The National Guard/Flickr


Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga5 months ago


Chad A
Chad Anderson5 months ago

Thank you.

Clare O
Clare O5 months ago

The rule here is Ireland is that any factory operation has to have a river water intake situated downstream of its outflow.

RosemaryRannes HusbandHos
Rosemary Rannes5 months ago

s.e. Smith thank you for caring2share this article that demonstrates what a horrifying reality fossil fuels in the form of coal ash and hog waste really are as Hurricane Florence has affected North Carolina communities.
Prayers are ongoing for the people and for the animals suffering from this horrific hurricane.
" Under the Obama administration, federal agencies took issues like environmental justice seriously. But budget cuts and policy shifts under Trump have made these initiatives less robust. The current situation in North Carolina highlights the huge cost of those decisions."

Val M
Val M5 months ago

Loredana V
Loredana V5 months ago

I feel terribly sorry for them :(

Henry M
Henry M5 months ago

It is so sad that polluters don't pay the price for their actions, they just let someone downriver it taxpayers pick up the tab.

JinnySITEISSUES L5 months ago

The Trump administration could care less about environmental rules/regulations or any rules (except their own) for that matter....just about profits and what benefits them and their other words they simply don't give a "sh*t." Thanks for posting.

hELEN h5 months ago


Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A5 months ago

What a mess for everything and everyone. And progress blindly carries on. Thanks for sharing.