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Evidence of ongoing pollution at a Wayne County hog operation, bacteria and nitrogen levels high in Nahunta Swamp

Nahunta swamp.jpg
(Photo: Sound Rivers)
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Despite assurances by North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources that last year’s spill at White Oak Farms had been cleaned up, recent testing by Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jillian Howell has revealed concerning levels pollutants in the surface water next to and downstream of the facility.

Evidence of ongoing pollution at a Wayne County hog operation has Riverkeepers concerned about a nearby waterway.

Despite assurances by North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources that last year’s spill at White Oak Farms had been cleaned up, recent testing by Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jillian Howell has revealed concerning levels pollutants in the surface water next to and downstream of the facility.

“What we found was incredibly high levels of nitrogen and fecal bacteria, both fecal coliform and e. Coli, in the two samples next to the facility, and the upstream sample was pretty clean,” Howell said.

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(Photo credit: NCDEQ)
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Up to four feet of foam slurry surrounded the bloated biogas digester and inundated nearby buildings.

In December 2022, NCDEQ fined White Oak Farms $34,520 after a hog-waste lagoon cover used to harness biogas ruptured last May, releasing millions of cubic feet of nutrient- and bacteria-laden “foam.”

Howell said the foam was a mix of, “Hog waste, dead hogs, and food waste products like deli meats and hotdogs from the Smithfield plant. None of it had actually been removed from the site; it had either been pushed back underneath the digester cover or pushed into the barns where the pigs would have been. The facility has been depopulated so there’s no animals there right now.”

“Or it had been just spread out across the property to kind of dry out – which is concerning to us. If waste is left out, any time it rains now there’s a chance that it could just run off again,” she added.

Howell said the DEQ said cleanup was completed in August or September, but the levels of bacteria and nitrogen in samples taken last month dispute that.

“It points to either the cleanup not being complete or inadequate or another issue out at this facility,” she said.

White Oak Farm 2.jpg
(Photo credit: Sound Rivers)
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An area between the facility and Nahunta Swamp shows evidence of the massive spill’s impact on surrounding land.

In late December, Sound Rivers — the environmental nonprofit the Riverkeepers work for — sent NCDEQ a letter asking the agency to visit the site to inspect the biogas digester and ruptured lagoon for any evidence of additional leaks or spills.

Sounds Rivers is a supporter of Public Radio East.

Read or listen to more about the May spill at White Oak Farms HERE.

Annette is originally a Midwest gal, born and raised in Michigan, but with career stops in many surrounding states, the Pacific Northwest, and various parts of the southeast. She has been involved in the media industry in eastern North Carolina for more than three years. An award-winning journalist and mother of four, Annette moved to ENC to be closer to family – in particular, her two young grandchildren. It’s possible that a -27 day with a -68 windchill in Minnesota may have also played a role in that decision. In her spare time, Annette does a lot of toddler and baby cuddling, reading, designing costumes for children’s theater and producing the coolest Halloween costumes anyone has ever seen. She has also worked as a diversity and inclusion facilitator serving school districts and large corporations. It’s the people that make this beautiful area special, and she wants to share those stories that touch the hearts of others. If you have a story idea to share, please reach out by email to westona@cravencc.edu.