A million tons of feces and an unbearable stench: life near industrial pig farms

North Carolina’s hog industry has been the subject of litigation, investigation, legislation and regulation. But are its health and environmental risks finally getting too much?

Rene Miller pokes a lavender-frocked leg out of her front door and grimaces. It’s a bright April afternoon, and the 66-year-old Miller, with a stoic expression and a dark crop of curls, braces herself for the walk ahead.

Her destination isn’t far away – just a half-mile down a narrow country road, flanked by sprawling green meadows, modest homes and agricultural operations – but the journey takes a toll. Because as she ambles down the two-lane street, stepping over pebbles and sprouts of grass, the stench takes hold, an odor so noxious that it makes your eyes burn and your nose run. Miller likens it to “death” or “decomposition” to being surrounded by spoiled meat.

That scent is so bad. You can’t go outside. You can’t go outside and cook anything because the flies take over

“In 1995, I began to meet neighbors of industrial hog operations,” he said. “I saw how close some neighborhoods are to hog operations. People told me about contaminated wells, the stench from hog operations that woke them at night, and children who were mocked at school for smelling like hog waste. I studied the medical literature and learned about the allergens, gases, bacteria, and viruses released by these facilities – all of them capable of making people sick.”

Everything was segregated, but we still got along. But now, after these hogs came in, everything has gone downhill

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