Complaints about North Carolina’s hog industry vanished in state bureaucracy

For years, complaints about hog pollution in North Carolina disappeared after they were filed with state authorities, FERN’s latest story with The Guardian and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting says. But as a result of a settlement with environmental justice groups, the state this year began posting complaints online – exceeding in six months the number of complaints in the prior decade.

The investigation, based on complaints obtained under a public records request, shows that North Carolina regulators kept the complaints out of record books. They did so as a result of a 2014 state law that kept complaints confidential unless the department “determines that a violation has occurred.” Even photographic evidence of spraying hog manure on fields ahead of tropical storms and hurricanes, which is illegal, vanished after an environmental group sent it to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

“For years, North Carolina regulators shielded the identities of polluting farms, burying public complaints against them and leaving those who lived nearby with few avenues for redress. Neighbors said their complaints were going unheard,” Yeoman writes.

The pollution wasn’t simply unpleasant. A study published in 2018 by the North Carolina Medical Journal concluded that families living near hog CAFOs saw higher rates of infant mortality and deaths from anemia, kidney disease, and tuberculosis, Yeoman writes. A University of North Carolina study, from 2014, found these issues “disproportionately affect” people of color: African Americans are more than 1-1/2 times more likely than whites to live within three miles of an industrial hog operation in North Carolina. Latinos and Native Americans are also more likely to live near CAFOs.

The story also appears on The Guardian and Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.