OT: Floyd's runoff creating "dead zone" in Pamlico Sound/Hog companies want pollution regulations waived

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Friday October 8, 1999 05:15 PM

Floyd's Runoff Creating ``Dead Zone'' in Pamlico Sound

RALEIGH (AP) -- Hurricane Floyd's muddy, sewage-polluted floodwaters have created a spreading ``dead zone'' for aquatic life in Pamlico Sound, the nation's second-largest estuary, marine scientists said Friday.

``What we're seeing is an ecological event on the catastrophic scale,'' said Hans Paerl, a marine scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The brown water containing human and animal waste and chemicals is flowing from the Neuse and Tar rivers into Pamlico Sound and from the Cape Fear River near Wilmington straight to the Atlantic. The muddy Roanoke River also is emptying pollutants into Albemarle Sound, but the effects there aren't as well-known.

Floyd dumped 20 inches of rain on eastern North Carolina on Sept. 16, flooding hog lagoons and sewer plants, homes and motor vehicles, while claiming at least 48 lives.

The sludge of human, animal and chemical waste and fuel products has slowly made its way to North Carolina's coastal estuaries, where it is beginning to squeeze the oxygen out of the water. That makes it impossible for fish and other aquatic life to survive. The largest affected area is a 350-square-mile area of Pamlico Sound and part of adjacent Core Sound.

The runoff, which is fresh water, sits atop the salt water, robbing it of oxygen from surface air and reducing salinity to one-half to one-third of normal. Both ingredients are essential to aquatic life.

Paerl said he found drastically low oxygen levels in the bottom water of Pamlico Sound - 1 miligram per liter, compared to the normal 7 miligrams. In that area, the chocolate-colored runoff contrasted sharply with the blue-green saltwater.

``Less than 1 miligram would not be habitable for finfish and crabs and most shellfish,'' Paerl said.

Yet fishermen in areas not affected by the dirty water are catching fish and shrimp, Nancy Fish of the state Division of Marine Fisheries said Friday.

``Things are moving ahead of the plume of fresh water that doesn't have much oxygen in it,'' she said.

Initial testing showed fish, crabs and shrimp - where they were found - were safe to eat and found no unsafe toxin levels that state officials feared would come with the hurricane's runoff. The samples were taken at 10 sites in the Neuse, Cape Fear, New and Pamlico rivers and Albemarle and Pamlico sounds.

Paerl and other scientists said it may be next spring or summer before the runoff's long-term effect on the sound and ocean is known.

In 1993, massive flooding doubled the size of a Gulf of Mexico ``dead zone'' that some scientists believe is caused by fertilizer runoffs in the Mississippi River basin.

The situation in the Pamlico, an estuary second in size only to Chesapeake Bay, is causing concern because pollutants won't readily flush into the ocean, said Paerl. The Pamlico has just three inlets through the Outer Banks to the Atlantic; most of the sound's water leaves via evaporation, he said.

``The sound is acting like a giant bathtub,'' he said, adding that the nitrogen-based nutrients become more concentrated as water evaporates.

Off the Cape Fear coast past Wilmington, the runoff is at least 40 feet deep and covers 300 square miles, said Larry Cahoon, marine scientist at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

Cahoon said the Cape Fear never experienced plummeting oxygen levels because its water flow is rapid, but the brown color indicates a large amount of nutrients that eventually could feed algae blooms that use up oxygen and kill fish.

``There's a brown ocean right now,'' Cahoon said.

``The big question is how long will it take for the system to recover,'' Paerl said. ``This is the biggest single pulse of nutrient input this system has seen, as least during my 21 years as a researcher. It is really a huge experiment in progress.''

Friday October 8, 1999 12:21 PM

Draft Legislation Would Waive Environmental Regulations for Farmers

RALEIGH (AP) -- North Carolina hog farmers want regulators to exempt them from environmental rules while they rebuild lagoons and operations damaged by Hurricane Floyd's floodwaters, draft legislation sent to Capitol Hill shows.

The head of the North Carolina Pork Council sent the legislation last week to at least five members of the state's congressional delegation, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported Friday.

The proposal extends relief eligibility to all eastern North Carolina farmers, but environmentalists and state officials said the package is clearly intended to help large hog farmers and other intensive livestock operations.

The four-page proposal asks that farmers be allowed to repair or rebuild facilities under standards that existed when they were originally constructed, rather than current, stricter standards. It also seeks the waiver or suspension of any federal, state or local regulation that slows reconstruction.

The draft legislation requests an exemption of up to a year from provisions of the Clean Water Act so livestock farmers may discharge waste from lagoons into waterways without obtaining a permit.

``The proposal seems to put a higher value on hog lagoons than on public health,'' said Molly Diggins, president of the state chapter of the Sierra Club.

Floyd's floodwaters overwhelmed hog waste lagoons and municipal waste treatment plants throughout eastern North Carolina, sending human and animal waste into rivers and creeks.

Don Reuter, spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the state would have serious concerns about suspending or waiving Clean Water Act provisions.

``We recognize that this is an unprecedented event in our history,'' Reuter said. ``But it is important for us to still have appropriate enforcement capabilities for those bad actors who choose to take advantage of the circumstances.''

Gov. Jim Hunt also expressed skepticism about the proposal Friday as he set out with Rep. Robin Hayes, R-N.C., on a tour of the flood-stricken coastal plain.

``I don't think that's a good idea,'' he said of the proposed exemptions.

Hunt's request to Congress for $2.2 billion in immediate flood relief includes $50 million to move 333 hog lagoons out of flood plains or equip them with new disposal methods.

Pork Council spokeswoman Beth Ann Mumford said the proposal wasn't intended to be controversial.

``We were just trying to get some help for those producers who have been flooded out,'' she said. ``We're not trying to skirt any state laws or federal laws.''

Mumford said the proposed environmental exemptions would apply only to about three dozen heavily damaged hog farms.

The proposal has met a cool reception from some Tar Heel legislators.

``As we rebuild, we cannot repeat the mistakes of the past or backpedal on environmental protection,'' said U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C.

David Rouzer, an aide to U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., said Congress probably would not be interested in a ``wish list'' from a particular interest group.

North Carolina imposed tougher regulations on hog farmers after lagoons ruptured in 1995, killing millions of fish in rivers and other waterways.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 08, 1999


``We were just trying to get some help for those producers who have been flooded out,'' she said. ``We're not trying to skirt any state laws or federal laws.''


Night train

-- jes an ol footballer who loves shellfish (nighttr@in.lane), October 08, 1999.

Well, here's our big chance. Do we want government regulation of everything off our backs or not?

-- Flint (flintc@mindspring.com), October 08, 1999.

You know, when I was reading about Roman roads I came across a sentence saying flint was used to surface many of them. Oh, be still my beating heart.

Flint, kindly present me with one post where I advocated doing away with all government regulation. Also please let me have your address so I can ice-ship you some tangy little Pamlico Sound oysters.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 08, 1999.

I live within 10 miles of several Corporate Hog facilities here in Gentry county Missouri.

Believe I'll forward these articles to some local activists,newspapers ,legislators.

Old Git-thanks-we have similar problems here w/ Corporate Hoggers

-- Sam (Gunmkr52@aol.com), October 08, 1999.

Sam, here's something that will help more--the Raleigh News & Observer's Pulitzer-prize-winning series on "Boss Hog" in 1996.


There is talk that if the hog producers have to adhere to current laws, they will take their operations where the regulation is not so strict. It was reported in the last day or two that Smthfield and Murphy, two of the biggest pork producers, are merging. Formidable.

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 08, 1999.

I'll bet folks can hardly wait for the Pfiesteria blooms to follow.

A.k.a. "the cell from hell"---

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Read all about it-- links upon links --

Ne wsworthy Harmful Algae Bloom events in the United States and the around the world

-- Tom Carey (tomcarey@mindspring.com), October 08, 1999.

I just returned from a drive trip through some of the flooding. The water is an icky black, and all the underbrush or anything it touched is black as well. The water stinks, it is a giant cesspool. The smell is gross.

A ham operator told me a wierd story. He only had a few feet of water in his yard, he was lucky. But when the water receded and he went back, there was somewthing that looked like brown spaghetti in his yard. On closer inspection, it turned out to be dead earthworms. When his yard flooded they came out of the earth and drowned. By counting in a square foot and multiplying by the area of his yard, he figured there were at least a million of them spread over 4 acres or so.

The hog companies are going to get slammed in the legislature this year. There is no more patience for them.

-- Forrest Covington (theforrest@mindspring.com), October 09, 1999.

Response to OT: Floyd's runoff creating "dead zone" in Pamlico Sound/Hog companies want pollution regulations waived

What are you saying--the pigmeat is unclean flesh?

-- Spidey (in@jam.sizzle), October 09, 1999.

Forrest, that's terrible news--earthworms are essential to good garden health. Could you suggest to your friend that he import some earthworms for at least some of his garden? I think they can be bought via catalogues.

BTW, a Y2K friend from Fayetteville is coming up this way next Friday--would you be free to join us for coffee in Durham? Anyone else in the area want to join us?

-- Old Git (anon@spamproblems.com), October 09, 1999.

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