North Carolina hog farms accused of putrid pollution

WARSAW, North Carolina - Some folks in North Carolina claim a food company is dumping waste right on their doorstep and hundreds have gone to court to make it stop.

Rene Miller recorded cell phone video that captured the problem: the farm across the street from her lifelong home in Warsaw, North Carolina is spraying hog waste, and the slightest breeze blows it into her yard and over her home and car.

"I want to sit out in the front porch today but I can't because of the spray," she said, adding how it's "disgusting" that she sometimes walks inside her home covered with a layer of moisture from the spray.

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Hog waste sprayed over fields is missing the mark and hitting homes, neighbors claim.

CBS News

North Carolina's 2,000 hog farms pump waste into storage lagoons. Overflow is sprayed onto fields as fertilizer, but sometimes, according to residents, the sprayers miss their marks, hitting homes nearby.

Twelve miles from Miller's home, Jeff Spedding farms for Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer and supplier. He said farmers want to be good neighbors, but he sees no better way to get rid of the waste.

"I've never had a complaint from any of my neighbors. We try to do what is right," he said.

"It gets into what's cost-effective also. It also gets into what's reasonable. There isn't any technology that's more efficient than what we're doing."

Hog farms and their waste are regulated by North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality - or DEQ. In annual inspections, the agency monitors where and how often farms spray.

Environmental advocacy group Waterkeeper Alliance filed a complaint against DEQ alleging "environmental racism" by allowing farms to locate disproportionately near minority communities. The EPA is investigating the environmental justice claims and DEQ says it's cooperating.

"Nobody's trying to put this industry out of business, just out of the pollution business," said Rick Dove, who works for Waterkeeper Alliance.

In a statement, the North Carolina Pork Council called those claims "wildly exaggerated," adding "we strongly reject any charge that race plays any part in the location or operation of hog farms."

Rene Miller and more than 500 residents have filed civil suits against Smithfield's Pork Division, claiming the farms are making it impossible for them to enjoy their homes.

"I'm stuck and I always say I'll probably die here stuck," she said.

While the civil suits play out in court, Miller dreads the summer. She said it's the busy season for the sprayer across the road.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.