Duke Law faculty comment on environmental threats in the wake of Hurricane Florence

October 5, 2018Duke Law News

Flooding across Eastern North Carolina caused by Hurricane Florence caused dozens of open-air hog-waste lagoons on massive commercial hog farms to overflow in September, threatening potentially catastrophic water contamination in the region.

Clinical Professors Ryke Longest and Michelle Nowlin JD/MA ’92, the director and supervising attorney, respectively, of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, were quoted extensively by media outlets about the threat of contamination to rivers, wells, and groundwater, the need for improved waste-storage technology and lagoon-management standards in the state, and the cost of clean-up, all subjects of their longstanding research, advocacy, and media commentary.

“They [keep] renewing the permit on these old, old lagoons as if these things are brand new, yet many of them have been in service for more than 20 years," Longest told Environmental Health News. "They are over time going to be prone to leak, and the hardware and equipment associated with them over time is going to break down and need to be replaced.”

“The storm has highlighted the costs that meat production imposes on society,” Nowlin told Popular Science. “I really hope the industry will come together with the communities to adopt these new technologies that will better protect human health, natural resources, and provide benefits for the farmers.”

Robinson O. Everett Professor of Law Jedediah Purdy addressed environmental injustice in the wake of Florence and other floods in a New Yorker essay. “The contamination that follows the flood will fall unequally on North Carolinians,” he wrote, pointing out that hog operations and such other sources of post-hurricane pollution as coal-ash ponds and Superfund sites, are often in or near low-income, minority communities.

A summary of faculty comments on the environmental implications of Hurricane Florence follows:

Nowlin: As storms become more frequent, North Carolina's primitive hog waste regulations put the public at risk
September 26, 2018 - Popular Science

Longest says Florence's floods highlight the need for new hog waste storage practices in N.C.
September 21, 2018 - Environmental Health News

Longest comments on the politics of animal agriculture in North Carolina
September 21, 2018 – Huffington Post

Nowlin comments on reports of illegal hog waste disposal in Florence's wake
September 20, 2018 - NC Policy Watch

Nowlin discusses N.C. hog waste standards and their vulnerability to floods and hurricanes
September 19, 2018 - VICE

Purdy examines the "unequal distribution of catastrophe" in N.C.
September 19, 2018 - The New Yorker

Nowlin discusses environmental impact of flooded factory farms
September 18, 2018 - The New Food Economy

Nowlin discusses Florence's potential environmental impact
September 17, 2018 - Indy Week