Environmental Justice and North Carolina Hog Farms by Emma Carlson

Hog farming is one of North Carolina’s largest industries, but its negative consequences go largely unnoticed. Most of the hog industry is located in eastern North Carolina, where the smell of millions of pigs and their feces disproportionately impact lower income, minority neighbors of the hog farms.[1] This bad smell lowers house values and can cause mental health problems, but the impact extends beyond this.[2] Additionally, people nearby hog farms may suffer from anxiety, respiratory conditions and acute blood pressure elevation among other things.[3] Currently, the EPA does not adequately account for lower income, minority groups in regulations and monitoring policies, although these considerations should be ensured under the Environmental Justice Act which states that communities should be treated fairly and involved in the policy making process regardless of race, religion, income or education level.[4] Action needs to be taken to address this issue, and the EPA should mandate that State Implementation Plans (SIP) under Section 9 of the Clean Air Act particularly consider environmental justice to address the impacts of hog farm lagoons and the impending consequences of climate change.[5]

In eastern North Carolina, there are many low income, minority populations that are being negatively impacted by the hog farms. Hog facilities are more often found near schools of low income, students of color, and this can have negative mental impacts on the children.[6] In 2014, Murphy-Brown-LLC, a subsidiary of one of the largest hog producers in the world, had 26 federal lawsuits filed against them, mostly by poorer black people who complained that the hog farms hurt their quality of life and health.[7] It is clear that low income, minority groups shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden of hog farms, so the legislation must be failing these people. It is difficult to enforce regulations since runoff from the farms may count as agricultural runoff which is exempt from the Clean Water Act.[8] However, this should not excuse the EPA from addressing the issue properly. The environmental statutes in effect right now do not address racial disparities when it comes to the exposure to pollution as the EPA is not adequately accounting for environmental justice throughout the policymaking process, and this must be addressed.[9]

This issue becomes increasingly pressing due to climate change. As temperatures rise, storms become more likely. There have been three extreme floods that occurred because of high rainfall during tropical cyclone events in the past 20 years. This is caused by the increased moisture carrying capacity of tropical cyclones due to climate change.[10] Unfortunately for North Carolina, this could mean devastation. Many areas have historically faced devastation from storms, and they are only destined for more as storms increase. Florence, Matthew and Floyd all caused damage to the area, and Florence in particular caused 32 lagoons at 27 facilities to discharge waste.[11] As climate change continues to impact our environment, North Carolina will become increasingly more susceptible. There has been a poleward shift of tropical storms, and this may leave North Carolina in a more vulnerable spot.[12] Unfortunately, the consequences of these changes are going to continue to fall on the shoulders of lower income and minority groups.

I propose that the EPA mandate states to provide a SIP on how they are going to address the issue of lagoon overflow during storms and the impacts of the odor and pollutants from the farms while considering environmental justice as a criterion. Some states are already working to address issues related to environmental justice. California standardized a tool that can measure environmental impact to individuals and families.[13] The program accounts for environmental hazards based on location, but it also assesses socioeconomic indicators like educational attainment, low income housing, low birth weight, linguistic isolation, poverty and unemployment.[14] If more programs like these are developed, they could be implemented in other states as well.

Regardless of the tool used, the EPA should be responsible for accounting for the needs and health of all populations regardless of race or income, and environmental justice should always be enforced as a criterion in regulation. As a society now facing the unprecedented threat of climate change, it is increasingly vital that the government takes action to protect all our people. It can start with the EPA requiring the SIP plans. The needs of low income and minority groups should be accounted for in regulation. It is unacceptable that some groups of people are forced to suffer more of the burden than others. In the clear unjust situation with hog farming in North Carolina, it is vital that the farms be regulated, and environmental justice needs to be seriously considered as a criterion when implementing and enforcing regulations.

[1] “A Million Tons of Feces and an Unbearable Stench: Life near Industrial Pig Farms.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/20/north-carolina-hog-industry-pig-farms.

[2] Griffin, Elizabeth. Environmental Justice and Groundwater Impacts of Hog Farms in Eastern

North Carolina. April 2019. Duke University, Thesis.

[3] (1)

[4] “Environmental Justice Act.” Public Leadership Institute, Model Bills, 2020, https://publicleadershipinstitute.org/model


[5] Paul, et al. “Brief Communication: Analysis of the Fatalities and Socio-Economic Impacts Caused by Hurricane Florence.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 26 Jan. 2019, www.mdpi.com/2076-3263/9/2/58/htm.

[6] Marianne Engelman Lado, “No More Excuses: Building a New Vision of Civil Rights Enforcement in the Context of Environmental Justice,” University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change 22, no. 4 (2019): 281-332.

[7] (1)

[8] (5)

[9] Konisky, David. “Environmental Justice Delayed: Failed Promises, Hope for the Future.” Environment: Science and Policy

for Sustainable Development, 58:2, 4-15. 17 Feb 2016.

[10] Paerl, Hans W., et al. “Recent Increase in Catastrophic Tropical Cyclone Flooding in Coastal North Carolina, USA: Long-Term Observations Suggest a Regime Shift.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 23 July 2019, www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-46928-9#Sec8.

[11] (8)

[12] (8)

[13] Leininger, Monika, and Kirsten Havig. “Promoting Environmental Justice Research and Practice for Social Workers in a

Rural State: Methodology and Findings of a Pilot Qualitative Study .” Contemporary Rural Social Work Journal , vol. 11, no. 1, 2020.

[14] (11)


2 thoughts on “Environmental Justice and North Carolina Hog Farms by Emma Carlson

  1. I think the lack of regulation on hog farms, particularly in North Carolina, is shocking and devastating. Not only is the lack of regulation of hog farms polluting the air, earth, and water, but it is disproportionately affecting low income and minority groups who may already have a difficult time making up the burden. Hog farms are a prime example of just how harmful the lack of attention and regulation of agricultural practices and the gaps in current policies such as the clean air act, clean water act, and environmental justice act can be. I thought your suggestion for adding a SIP plan to the CAA was a good idea because it focuses on a more attainable policy, compared to regulating runoff which can be harder to monitor due to non-point source pollution. Additionally, it would hold each farm accountable for their emissions. I also think it’s incredibly important to focus on the impact hog farms are having on people, such as the tool used in California. If North Carolina could adopt and implement this tool, I think it would greatly benefit the communities that are being affected by the hog farms and could help give them some justice for the issues they’ve been put through. Simply stepping outside a house that’s near a hog farm can have negative health impacts and it’s important that the people who live under these conditions are given tools and aid to better their conditions.

  2. I’ve heard of the environmental justice issues associated with hog farming in North Carolina, in which minority populations are disproportionately affected. But I’ve only thought that the problems stem from the stench and air pollution. I am starting to see, with more storms hitting the Eastern Carolina seaboard, how climate change will affect the minority even more. I agree that more has to be done in the realm of environmental justice, especially with climate change as a factor. I am interested in how such a state-implementation plan might look, and I am especially curious whether the California plan might be feasible in North Carolina, given the significant differences in the political and economic contexts.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.