As the massive hurricane Florence bears down on the East coast, our thoughts are with anyone (including all the critters) in its path.
The immediate concern in the face of such an historic natural disaster is protecting human life from violent winds, storm surge, and widespread flooding. But in the Carolinas, another risk looms.
There are hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens, and other animals on large-scale CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Each has some sort of manure storage lagoon. Most are designed to withstand as much as 25″ of rainfall, but the combination of heavy wind and rain — and flooding because all the water has nowhere to go — can breach the lagoons and lead to massive manure spills.
Big storms create storm surge and bring tons of rain. Catastrophic flooding in areas with dozens of breached manure lagoons create a dangerous mix of bacteria, decaying animal flesh (both farm animals and wild animals), and toxic chemicals. After the storm passes and the sun comes out, the water receded slowly, leaving in its wake large pockets of heavily contaminated water, which can contain a dangerous mix of pathogens and chemicals.
The AP reported on preparations under way across the region in a story this week. It recalls the extensive damage cause by Hurricane Floyd almost 20 years ago in 1999. Making landfall as a Category 2 storm (Florence is currently forecasted to hit as a 2 or 3), Floyd dumped up to 2 feet of rain on the region, resulting in “the worst natural disaster in state history.”
The lead photo in the AP story serves a grim reminder of the consequences of that severe flooding – bloated hog carcasses “and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it.”
The pork industry is hard at work preparing for Florence, lowering lagoon levels by heavy irrigation and stockpiling feed. Let’s hope the lagoons hold and the storm is not as bad as now feared.
We will keep an eye on this developing story as Florence decides where she wants to land, and just how bad she is going to pummel the Carolina coast.
Biesecker, Michael, “Hurricane could flood many waste sites, creating toxic brew,” Associated Press, September 11, 2018.