Environmental justice should be one of your top five priorities


At the intersection of pollution and socioeconomic despair:

We can see the through lines between climate change, polluting industries, and COVID-19 at North Carolina’s numerous factory farms. These farms, which can contain millions of hogs, chickens, and turkeys, struggle to keep hazardous animal waste pits called “lagoons” from repeatedly washing away due to hurricane flooding. Toxic animal waste pollutes river basins and streams, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean, creating algal blooms that harm aquatic ecosystems. In addition, some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in our area are with Black and Brown factory farm workers who’ve been denied proper protective equipment. Separately, factory farms, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic are all extremely dangerous; but combined, lagoons overflowed by hurricanes and the poor working conditions that sicken workers are killing people, the economy, and the ecosystem.

These problems simply cannot be fixed from the top-down. Zoning is one of the major factors in environmental injustice, and that is (for the most part) a local government function. Zoning maps that were created in the 20th Century are usually only updated every ten years or so, and those updates are "tweaks," mostly focused on expanding population. The inequities built into that system (industrial zones near black neighborhoods) rarely come under scrutiny, and the refusal to zone in unincorporated areas by county commissioners is even worse. It's a major health problem for communities of color, and has gotten worse since the NIH studied it 20 years ago:

Rapid growth and the concentration of hog production in North Carolina have raised concerns of a disproportionate impact of pollution and offensive odors on poor and nonwhite communities. We analyzed the location and characteristics of 2,514 intensive hog operations in relation to racial, economic, and water source characteristics of census block groups, neighborhoods with an average of approximately 500 households each.

We used Poisson regression to evaluate the extent to which relationships between environmental justice variables and the number of hog operations persisted after consideration of population density. There are 18.9 times as many hog operations in the highest quintile of poverty as compared to the lowest; however, adjustment for population density reduces the excess to 7.2. Hog operations are approximately 5 times as common in the highest three quintiles of the percentage nonwhite population as compared to the lowest, adjusted for population density. The excess of hog operations is greatest in areas with both high poverty and high percentage nonwhites. Operations run by corporate integrators are more concentrated in poor and nonwhite areas than are operations run by independent growers.

Most hog operations, which use waste pits that can contaminate groundwater, are located in areas with high dependence on well water for drinking. Disproportionate impacts of intensive hog production on people of color and on the poor may impede improvements in economic and environmental conditions that are needed to address public health in areas which have high disease rates and low access to medical care as compared to other areas of the state.

In other words, it is not coincidental, it is systemic. While the Smithfield lawsuits have brought some relief, they also generated stubborn pushback. And (in my opinion) generated a certain amount of complacency in the overall population: "We fixed this, let's move on." It hasn't been fixed, not by a longshot. Back to the OP, and a big hat-tip to the NC Justice Center for keeping this issue on the front burner:

The data shows that climate change is going to make hurricanes and floods more frequent and severe in the coming years for North Carolina and other states. Wealthier people can rebuild after disasters, while less privileged Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities do not have the same medical care, insurance, and shelter. The devastation of lost homes and flooded neighborhoods poses a threat for generations to come, as does increased hazardous waste and other toxins in drinking water, like coal ash and E. coli, a result of these superstorms. In 2018, Hurricane Florence overflowed the factory farm “lagoons” where hazardous hog waste piles up, poisoning farmland and waterways. Communities without resources cannot be resilient when these crises take over because of historical barriers they have faced to building health and wealth.

Be aware, not just politically, but in your own hometown and county. These issues will not be addressed until citizens demand it.



It still baffles me...

that major hog operations that have tens or hundreds of thousands of hogs in relatively small areas don't have to obey the same kind of sewage regulations that human towns and cities do. A commercial hog is even larger than a human, produces similar waste, and is being confined in an area that would (for the largest operations) put them in the same size rank as the top 10 cities in the state. Yet they can handle their waste with less care than a town of a thousand people would be required to exercise. It's that kind of thing that results from the excess power of corporations to direct the laws to their benefit. In a just and properly run system, they would be required to handle waste in exactly the same way a human city does and there wouldn't be these problems of equity and environmental damage.