Update: Ongoing pollution of Nahunta Swamp

Evidence of ongoing pollution means Riverkeepers continue to pursue their investigation of a Wayne County hog operation.

Despite assurances by North Carolina Department of Environmental Resources that last year’s spill at White Oak Farms had been cleaned up, recent testing by Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop and Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Jillian Howell has revealed concerning levels of nitrogen, fecal coliform and e. Coli bacteria in the surface water adjacent to and downstream of the facility.

“These results indicate animal waste contamination of Nahunta Swamp with levels of bacteria and nitrogen present that far exceed normal levels in healthy streams as well as levels measured upstream of White Oak Farms,” Krop said.

In December 2022, NCDEQ issued an enforcement action and $34,520 fine against White Oak Farms as a result of a May 2022 incident, in which a hog-waste lagoon cover used to harness biogas ruptured, releasing millions of cubic feet of nutrient- and bacteria-laden “foam.” Some of that foam — a byproduct of the decomposition of hog waste, dead hogs, and food waste such as hot dogs and deli meat — spilled into nearby Nahunta Swamp. Krop discovered the spill and ruptured biogas cover during a routine flyover in August, more than two months after the incident. With the exception of a small ad in a local paper, neither NCDEQ nor the facility publicized the incident.

More information about the civil penalty assessment can be found here.

Though NCDEQ staff claimed the spill had been contained and the site cleaned up, last month’s water-sampling results indicate either previous efforts to clean up the decomposing waste were insufficient or there is a separate, ongoing pollution source stemming from the facility entering surface waters, according to Krop.

In late December, Sound Rivers — the environmental nonprofit both Riverkeepers work for — sent NCDEQ a letter reporting the findings of ongoing pollution issues at White Oak Farms and requesting immediate action from the agency.

“The Department of Environmental Quality has a responsibility to ensure the White Oak Farms facility does not continue to pollute waters of the state, and towards that end, we are requesting DEQ take immediate action to identify the source of this contamination and promptly address it,” Krop said.

In the letter, Sound Rivers requests the agency conduct another site visit to the facility to inspect the biogas digester and ruptured lagoon for any evidence of additional leaks or spills. They also ask that NCDEQ collect additional surface water samples on Nahunta Swamp to determine the source and extent of bacteria and nutrient contamination, and to make those results publicly available. NCDEQ confirmed receipt of the letter this week and has indicated the agency is committed to further investigation.

White Oak Farms recently applied for a renewal of its water permit, which expired in October, and the facility is currently awaiting a response from NCDEQ.

Sound Rivers is also awaiting a response from NCDEQ regarding a records request made last summer for information regarding the White Oak Farms’ permit, the May 2022 spill and the cleanup process following the spill.