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July 15, 2010

From Homeland to Wasteland: Part 3

In the latest issue of All Animals magazine, author David Kirby describes the health and environmental problems caused by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the fight against industrial animal production in rural America

All Animals magazine, July/August 2010

  • Rick Dove joins other North Carolina activists at a protest in Raleigh. Dove knows all about the environmental and health hazards of letting too many nutrients from CAFOs leach into waterways. Rick Dove/www.doveimaging.com

Editor's note: David Kirby's Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment was published in March by St. Martin's Press. He also wrote the award-winning New York Times bestseller Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic—A Medical Controversy (St. Martin's Press, 2005). A journalist for more than 15 years, he has appeared on numerous television and radio programs and is a contributor to The Huffington Post. Read part one of the series » Part two »

by David Kirby

Pigs, Poultry, and Pollution: Col. Dove to the Rescue

Rick Dove did two tours of duty in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine and a lengthy stint as a judge at Camp Lejeune, not far from his home on the Neuse River in New Bern, N.C. But it's his long wars with the hog concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) at home and chicken farms in Maryland that left the biggest mark.

Sometimes his work almost kills him. Dove still feels the effects of a nearly lethal multi-drug-resistant E. coli infection he contracted in 2008, after he fell from a canoe while trying to collect runoff samples at a Perdue poultry contractor on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

As an advocate for the Waterkeeper Alliance, he was leading some investigators up a tidewater ditch to the point where chicken CAFO leachate was likely spilling from a drainage pipe. From there, the waste could easily make its way to the Chesapeake Bay, site of legendary algal blooms and foul fish kills.

Dove knows all about the environmental and health hazards of letting too many nutrients from CAFOs leach into waterways. He left the Marines to become a fisherman on the Neuse, but it didn't last long. In the 1990s, nutrient-rich waters produced a raft of algal blooms, fish kills, and outbreaks of the dreaded protozoa Pfiesteria, which sucks blood from fish by the millions and sickens people on the water. A string of hurricanes in the late '90s swept both pigs and lagoon waste into massive foaming cauldrons of filth and death.

Dove and his colleagues—such as Larry Baldwin, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper in North Carolina, and Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper in the Delmarva region—continue monitoring CAFOs. Using evidence gathered from their surveillance flights and risky water testing in ditches, they have filed two new Clean Water Act lawsuits.

One case involves "one of the worst polluters" in North Carolina, Dove says. "It's been problematic going back to the 1990s. We'd find discharges and turn the evidence over to the state, which did little more than apply a slap on the wrist." The state is "not doing what it should to monitor CAFOs and enforce the law," he adds. "So we decided to finally do something, and sent volunteers out and collected sufficient evidence to file a suit."

"The environmental problems associated with industrial hog pollution can no longer be ignored."

In February, Dove, Baldwin, the Neuse River Foundation, and the Waterkeeper Alliance sent a 60-day "notice of intent" to sue a 7,000-hog operation, J.C. Howard's Hill and Taylor Farm, "for illegally discharging harmful pollutants—including fecal coliform and oxygen-depleting nitrogen and phosphorous—into waters of the Neuse River watershed," says a Waterkeeper statement.

As Baldwin notes, with 2 million-plus hogs in the watershed producing the equivalent fecal waste of more than 20 million people, "the environmental problems associated with industrial hog pollution can no longer be ignored." The parties are discussing ways to eliminate the lagoons and sprayfields at this facility without litigation. 

In Maryland, Phillips and Waterkeeper filed a similar notice against Alan and Kristin Hudson and their corporate contractor, Perdue Farms, who they allege are contaminating a stream that leads to the Chesapeake. They seek fines, operating changes, five years of monitoring, and legal fees. 

Dove and Phillips had flown over the area in search of chicken waste piles near waterways, finding one such spot at the Hudson farm. Downstream from the CAFO—the same location where Dove took his near-fatal tumble—high levels of fecal coliform and E. coli were found on eight different days, according to the complaint. 

The defendants have moved to dismiss the case. They say that inspectors determined the pile was human sewage sludge, to be used for fertilizer, and asked the Hudsons to move it back from the ditch. The plaintiffs dispute this account. Pretrial motions are being argued in federal court.

Dove knows that pursuing legal matters can take time. So does waiting for change to come from the top: Congress and the White House. But he's losing patience.

"North Carolina still has 2,600 pig cesspools cooking in the hot sun. If I were Mother Nature, I would say 'Enough is enough.' And now they are predicting much larger hurricane seasons, and these factories and lagoons are still out there, in harm's way."

One of these days, "probably not too far off," Dove warns, "nature is going to deliver one swift kick in the butt to us, and the best that environmentalists will be able to say is, 'I told you so.' And I don't know what that's going to be worth. There'll be no value in that because it'll be too late."

Part One | Part Two | Part Four

This is part three of a four-part series. The entire article is published in the upcoming July/August issue of All Animals magazine.

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