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Farm Nuisances, Injuries or Diseases

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Environmental Litigation

Wallace & Graham, P.A. law firm is representing many North Carolina residents who are suing for the odor, flies, fumes and nuisance and other harms caused to them by industrialized hog farm factories known as CAFOs. These cases have been filed in North Carolina Superior Court. Wallace & Graham, P.A. is a law firm located in Salisbury, NC.

On this page you will find information about the NC factory litigation and related issues. Please check back from time to time as we will be adding much more information.

The days of the local family farm with pigs in the pen or in the field out back of the barn are long gone.

Today, pigs are owned by giant corporations, owned by still larger food producers located outside of our State and even outside of our Country. The largest pork producer in North Carolina is Smithfield Foods. In 2013, Smithfield was sold to Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd., the largest shareholder of China's biggest meat processor.

The pigs that are owned by Smithfield and other producers are no longer placed on traditional-looking farms with barns and pig pens outside. Instead, they are kept in indoor buildings in what are known as CAFOs — Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The pigs generate multiple times more waste than humans do. The urine and feces mixed with wastewater drips through slatted floors under the sheds into holding pools. Meanwhile, big ventilation fans blow air out of the buildings so they don't overheat and to keep the pigs from suffocating.

This air is full of waste fumes and particulates. Periodically the urine and feces are flushed from under the buildings into giant open-air cesspools. These cesspools are recognizable by their pinkish-brown color caused by the waste and the chemicals they contain.Foul smells rise off of the surfaces of these cesspools. But they are not enough to hold the waste either.

So, to drain the pools, many farms spray the wastewater up into the air where it rains down over nearby fields and fumes and mist drifts through the air.

The hogs are fed special diets to maximize quick growth. This also means more waste. Once the hogs are large enough, the giant pork producers that own them, come and pick up the finished hogs and truck them out for slaughter and processing.

Ground Zero - Southeastern N.C.

In 2011, Duplin County had 34 hogs per person. There are over 30 times more pigs than people in Duplin County, NC.

Hundreds of hog farms are located in the coastal plain counties of North Carolina. These include Duplin, Sampson, Bladen, Pender, Robeson, Onslow, Wade, Lenoir and other counties.Over the years the number of hogs has gone up. The hog population jumped from about 2.6 million in 1988 to over 8 million in 1997. As of June 2012, there were over 9 million hogs on North Carolina farms.

North Carolina ranks 2nd nationally, behind Iowa, in the total number of pigs produced.This is a very important industry for our State. It is also very lucrative for the large pork producers. Smithfield, which is the largest of the producers, had 2011 revenues of over $12 billion. Its 2011 profit was over $1 billion.

Yet despite these significant revenues and profits, the pork producers have not invested the money needed to reduce and eliminate the odor, fumes, flies, pollution and nuisance caused by their hog farms to families in North Carolina.

Harm Caused to Neighbors

A recent publication from 2013 described the harm caused to NC communities by the pork producers and the pigs they own:

"On the coastal plain of eastern North Carolina, families in certain rural communities daily must deal with the piercing, acrid odor of hog manure reminiscent of rotten eggs and ammonia” wafting from nearby industrial hog farms. On bad days, the odor invades homes, and people are often forced to cover their mouths and noses when stepping outside. Sometimes, residents say, a fine mist of manure sprinkles nearby homes, cars, and even laundry left on the line to dry." [source: Wendee Nicole, "CAFOs and Environmental Justice: The Case of North Carolina," Environ Health Perspect 121:A182-A189 (2013), ]

The fumes, mist and particles from the hog farms come from several sources. Some of it comes from the big fans blowing air out of the mechanized hog buildings stuffed with hogs. More of it comes from off of the surfaces of the large, open-air cesspools around the buildings. Still more arrives when farms use machinery to spray raw waste up into the air and over the nearby fields.
Many of the families who live near the hog farms live on family land that goes back for generations. Many are rural hardworking individuals who cannot easily afford to uproot and move away.

The worst time for the fumes and mists is the middle of the year, when the temperatures rise and when winds and breezes blow the toxic gases through the air.

These gases can include methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. These are all known pollutants with harmful properties. The gases such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide have very foul and offensive odors, like rotten eggs but worse.

Don Webb is a longtime North Carolina resident and a former hog farmer himself who lived through the transition from old-fashioned farms to the new industrialized swine facilities. He has described the effects this way:

"The smell, the flies and the pollution from this facility has destroyed our quality of life and causes constant stress. How would you feel if you couldn't drink the water from your own well, go to church without the smell of hog waste permeating your clothing, or even have a barbeque with friends on your own property? Living next to a creek that often fills with raw swine excrement makes me wonder if it's safe for my neighbors to be around here." [source]

Wallace and Graham currently represent more than 500 North Carolina residents who have filed claims for the hog farm nuisance. Currently there are 26 lawsuits filed in federal court in the Eastern District of North Carolina.

These cases were filed for the offensive odors, fumes, and toxic waste coming from hogs owned by Murphy-Brown, LLC. Murphy-Brown is a limited liability company organized under the law of Delaware. Their sole member is John Morrell & Company, a corporation incorporated under the law of Delaware and with its principal office located in Smithfield, Virginia. Murphy-Brown is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, which is a Virginia-headquartered multinational corporation. Smithfield is owned by the WH Group (formerly known as Shuanghui), principal investor in the largest Chinese meat producer that is closely controlled by the Chinese government.

The Plaintiffs claim that Murphy-Brown owns tens of thousands of hogs which it places in industrialized swine containment facilities located in Duplin, Sampson and other Counties. Each hog produces two to four times more waste than a human being. The waste mixed with leftover feed and water and chemicals, ferments and is spread in mist and fumes and goes into the air and into the yards and the homes of the Plaintiffs who live nearby.

The Plaintiffs have brought a primary claim under the traditional law of "nuisance." Under North Carolina law, when the activities of your neighbors cause a "loss of use and enjoyment," this may give rise to a claim. A person's home is usually their greatest asset. The right to peacefully use and enjoy your homestead is protected by the law.

What is the Nuisance?

The Plaintiffs in the North Carolina hog farm nuisance cases have complained of a variety of harms. Harms and bad effects that people have complained of from the industrialized swine containment facilities have included:

  • Awful smells and fumes from the swine facilities.
  • Must keep windows closed on bad days.
  • Cannot hang laundry.
  • Must run air conditioning, cannot open windows and doors and let air circulate.
  • Kids cannot play outside. Kids get teased in school. Sometimes even local schools are affected with odor.
  • Swarms of flies and irritating insects.
  • Dead hogs left by the side of the road and in "dead boxes."
  • Presence of vultures and crows.
  • Foul drifts of mist in the air from spraying on fields.
  • Cannot sit on porch and enjoy a summer day. Cannot have picnics, cookouts, outdoor recreational activities, fishing and hunting in affected areas.
  • Skin irritation, asthma, stomach upset, nausea, watery eyes.
  • Cannot use well water.
  • Property has less value. Reduced values throughout neighborhood.
  • Visitors and friends complain of the odor. Kids do not want to bring friends home. Family relatives notice the odor.
  • Depression, frustration and humiliation. Stress and its bad health effects such as hypertension.
  • Floods, spills, leaks of waste into rivers and streams. Catastrophic damage during hurricanes or tropical storms.

Wallace and Graham has filed lawsuits on behalf of over 400 clients regarding noxious odors and other nuisances from hog farms. One of those lawsuits is against Murphy-Brown for the neighbors of Stantonsburg Farm.

An aerial view of the Stantonsburg swine facility. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

The Stantonsburg Farm lawsuit was filed on July 30, 2013. The name of the case is "Dennis Ray Best, et al. v. Smithfield Foods, Inc., et al.," and it is Case No. 13-CV-10323. 

There are 25 Plaintiffs (people suing) in the case. The Stantonsburg Farm industrialized swine containment facility is located in Wilson County, NC. According to the Waterkeeper Alliance, the Stantonsburg facility has a long history of illegal discharges and waste management problems, including leaks of raw swine waste to a tributary of Contentnea Creek as recently as 2013. 

Community members who live near the Stantonsburg hog farm have complained of foul odor, fly swarms, swine waste leaks and runoff and trouble with water wells for years. In the Wake County nuisance complaint, the Plaintiffs have alleged that the odors, fumes and other nuisances caused by the hog farm have caused them harm.

The farm has contracted to grow hogs for Murphy-Brown, LLC owned by Smithfield Foods. Smithfield was recently purchased by the overseas company, Shuanghui International Holdings. Shuanghui has ties with China's largest pork producer formerly controlled by the Chinese government.

Don Webb is a community member who himself once used to be a hog farmer. Regarding the Stantonsburg Farm, he told the Waterkeeper Alliance:

"Many of us grew up around here, and have deep connections to the land and waters. We caught crawdads, fished and swam in these waters and purchased land to maintain our connections to the area or have a place of our own that provided a good quality of life."

"The smell, the flies and the pollution from this facility have destroyed our quality of life and causes constant stress. How would you feel if you couldn't drink the water from your own well, go to church without the smell of hog waste permeating your clothing or even have a barbeque with friends on your own property?"

Aerial view of the Stantonsburg swine facility, with Contentnea Creek visible. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

The Waterkeeper Alliance has reported that in 2013, a major leakage of hog waste polluted water happened at the Stantonsburg farm, which is located near to the Contentnea Creek. 

Photos provided by the Waterkeeper Alliance appear to show how runoff from the hog farm goes toward the creek.

Runoff from Stantonsburg hog farm toward creek. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

According to reports, the Stantonsburg Facility generates almost 12 million gallons of waste each year. The goes to one open-air cesspool and later is sprayed onto nearby fields. The Waterkeeper Alliance contends that the volume of waste spraying goes beyond any legitimate fertilization purpose, can go onto bare and saturated ground, and leads to runoff of waste into the ground and over nearby land.

The hog farms first store hog urine and feces in pools below slatted floors in the hog confinement buildings. Then, the waste goes into a large open-air pool. Finally, it is sprayed and applied to fields around the farm. According to the Waterkeeper Alliance, this has resulted in runoff from the fields.

Runoff from the sprayfields near Stantonsburg hog farm. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

The Waterkeeper Alliance has photos reflecting efforts by the farm to contain the discharge. Unfortunately, according to the Alliance some of the waste has still made its way out of the facility.

Stantonsburg farm trying to control raw hog waste discharge. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

The color of hog waste open-air cesspools, which the industry prefers to call "lagoons," is a pinkish-brown color.  A similar color can be seen in some of the runoff photographed by the Alliance.

Raw waste runoff toward creek. Note pinkish-brown color. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

Larry Baldwin of the Waterkeeper Alliance has stated that "Discharges of swine waste from the Stantonsburg facility are illegal under the Clean Water Act and have obvious impacts on neighboring landowners that should have merited immediate action from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources."  

Raw hog sewage runoff. Note pinkish-brown color, similar to open-air cesspools. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.

The Stantonsburg Farm's close ties to Murphy-Brown are reflected in signs near the farm itself. The awards appear to be focused on the amount of hog production, however, not on the cleanliness of the facility or its effect on the nearby environment.

Murphy-Brown awards to Stantonsburg farm. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance.