Changing Planet

Duplin County: Life Under the Waste Sprayer


W4F – Duplin County – Life Under the Waste Sprayer from Corey Robinson on Vimeo.

Duplin County, North Carolina is the epicenter for industrial swine production in the United States. Housing an estimated 2.2 million hogs, this dot on the map shoulders more than its fair share of the world’s swine production load. I showed up last summer to film the stories of those trying to protect the water, land, and air that these hog farms influence so profoundly.Swine farm and lagoon

First, what’s the problem? Everyone loves pig right? Vitamin B (bacon) is certainly a staple of my brunch diet. In short, the sheer number of hog farms that have slid into this predominantly minority, low-income community has stressed its environment to the max. A pig produces about ten times as much waste as a human does, yet has almost none of the regulations on how it’s disposed.

In North Carolina, contract farmers working under the umbrella of a far away corporation have few choices on how to handle the hog waste from the scores of animals they are forced to grow to stay profitable. This waste typically flushes into “lagoons” then when the that fills up, farmers spray the tepid liquid waste filled with the most unimaginable grossness on to fields as fertilizer. This works in many cases, but all too often overstressed farmers (no one has it easy here) over-apply and allow runoff into local streams, all the while pumping the air full of toxic stench. The standard industry response that “it’s not that bad” doesn’t cut it for some.

Duplin County resident René lives immediately adjacent to a hog waste sprayer.

Enter René (family name withheld.) She lives in the same neighborhood she grew up in, a house handed down from her mother. In the late 1990s an industrial swine “farmer” set up a spray field across the street from her house. Several times every week, the “farmer” pumps this grotesque cocktail of pig excrement into the air 20 yards from her front door. René has developed respiratory issues, and can’t go outside without quickly becoming hoarse. She no longer can hang clothes to dry or work in her garden, lingering outside just long enough to get to her car to go to and from work.

Despite these hardships René still manages to smile and get along with her life. Although she has much to be afraid of, she carries no fear, no hatred, and says she’ll speak out until her last breath. Her story is not unique, but her courage is.

A Dead Truck hoists dead a dead box into the truck bed.
A Dead Truck hoists a dead box into the truck bed.

Numerous groups are taking on the science behind what’s happening to the air and water around these “farms.” Devon Hall, co-founder of Rural Empowerment Association for Community Health (REACH) is spreading the scientific gospel as a way to empower these communities to speak up about these injustices. The Waterkeeper Alliance also leads countless research efforts to document, in clear black and white, what these polluters are doing. Merely imagining breathing in pig excrement and drinking tainted water supplies doesn’t do much to convince an industry-owned government of anything. Duplin County is finding science as savior and rising up to prove, in no uncertain terms, it is that bad

The Water Is for Fighting project documents the challenges facing our nations freshwater resources. Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting these stories through film, still pictures and words.

Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015

“Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

Industrial Swine Farms as far as the eye can see

Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting stories through film, still pictures and words. The "Water Is for Fighting" project documents the stories of people around the United States fighting to protect their waterways. Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015
  • samantha brice

    My question is who was there first. Most hog farms have been on the same spot for 20 years or longer and people knowingly move right next door and then complain. What about the children who’s father goes to work everyday on their hog farm to feed his family. My opinion is if you don’t like it move.

  • Summer W

    After NAFTA shut down the textile companies, the hog industry was a welcome source of income for the area. Seems people don’t think about how bad things would’ve been these last 20+ years without the hogs!

  • Ruth Renwick

    There are new viable alternatives to filling up the land and air with about it and learn. we will all sink into the toxic mire in the end with the old attitudes of having a job trumps environmental concerns.

  • Ruth Renwick

    Environmental concerns are very imporant as the Earth is dying. Super meat that can be grown from cells will replace these farms and save the planet in a few decades anyway. They can get a different kind of job that wont hinder the environment and will perhaps contribute to its healing.

  • Amanda

    Unfortunately, its not as easy as “pick up and move” for most people. For one, who would buy foul, polluted land with a feces sprayer operating 100 ft. away? That point of view is unrealistic, so poor, vulnerable communities remain where they are, at the mercy of the polluters.

  • Ann Frederick

    For one no one should have to ” pick up and move”. We never asked for a pig farm in our front and back door. We.were born and raised in this neighborhood and if any body should go it needs to be this pig farm. I never seen a pig farm in a predominantly white neighborhood. We have children in this neighborhood that plays outside in this infectious air and drinking water that is probably tainted . Would you want this pig farm in your neighborhood that you was raised in?

  • Walter

    I seriously cannot believe that many of you are even giving an argument or trying to figure out who came there first?!?! Seriously! What is wrong with the US? United!?! Really?! Wake up! Who cares who was there first…people are arresting and children are getting sick…shut the friggin hog farm down!!! 1+1=2 is it that hard to know what needs to be done? Get real people…take care of your own people…or maybe they are NOT your people…still racism in 2017…so happy to be Canadian. Praying for those who are suffering in Duplin.

  • Chris

    It’s not the question of which person, farmer, corporation was there first. The concern is human life and the protection of the environment. America has an immediate problem and it’s corporate greed. This approach has influenced our politics, infrastructure, education, and environmental health to the point of un-reverseable destruction. The solution is simple! Our people and Government should shut these companies down. What humanity does the next few decades will be critical too human health and the environment. It’s sad to say, but Duplin County, North Carolina is in a constant State of Emergency.

  • Cas Chasten

    People were and have been living in this community many decades, before any such idea of these large scale hog farms came about.
    The excuse of allowing such an injustice to occur, because, family farming and textile plants have gone away, is no reason, to enable wealthy corporations to put peoples lives at risk. This I know, because I was born and raised for much of my life in Duplin County, N.C.

  • Mezie

    The solution to this is very simple. Collect the gases given off and remove the hydrogen from the hydrogen sulphide and the methane gases and turn it into ENERGY. There is probably enough gas given off to heat and power the local community. Give the farmers who join in grants and penalize the ones who don’t comply. Clean air, Clean water, cheaper electric. Hog farmers happy, local community happy, healthier environment.

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