CAROLINA BEACH, North Carolina—As if the howling winds, driving rain, and deadly flash floods weren’t enough to deal with, Hurricane Florence has thrown up a new and serious threat to human life: pig feces.
Two “hog lagoons” have already breached, according to the state’s pork council, while four are flooded and 14 others are at capacity. The pig-poop lakes are the size of a soccer field, Bloomberg News reports, and will present a real danger to human health if they contaminate the state’s waterways.
To make matters worse, the waters are also at risk of contamination from millions of gallons of partially treated human feces after sewage plants across the state flooded. Coal-ash ponds, chemical factories, landfills, and hazardous waste dumps are also located on the state’s rivers.
“We don’t think it’s a good idea for people to be swimming around in poop,” said John Rumpler, clean-water program director for Environment America, a Colorado-based advocacy group. “It’s a pretty serious public-health risk that people should be concerned about.”
Hog lagoons are particularly prominent in North Carolina—the nation's second-largest pork producing state, according to News & Observer. Each of the 4,000 lagoons contain tons of waste and some have breached before—after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, thousands of dead pigs and waste from 50 lagoons contaminated the state’s main rivers.
The North Carolina Pork Council said the majority of lagoons in the state had avoided hurricane damage so far. “While there are more than 3,000 active lagoons in the state that have been unaffected by the storm, we remain concerned about the potential impact of these record-shattering floods,” the council said in a statement Monday.
But further rain and flood could cause more to breach—and anyone who comes into contact with the waste risks contracting viruses, parasitic infections, rashes, and other serious health conditions.
On Friday, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority reported that more than 5 million gallons of partially treated wastewater (containing human sewage) spilled out of its plant and flowed into the Cape Fear River.
“North Carolina allows all this dangerous waste to be stored next to its flooding coastal—and, for that matter, inland—rivers,” Frank Holleman of the Southern Environmental Law Center told News & Observer. “How long do we have to go through this until we decide it’s too much risk?”
The hurricane, which has so far killed at least 32 people, is forecast to cost $22 billion in damages. Some residents in Carolina Beach—many of whom evacuated Wednesday—have returned home to survey what’s left.
New Hanover County officials lifted the mandatory evacuation Monday at noon, allowing residents back on the island south of Wilmington. Forecasters feared Pleasure Island—home to Carolina Beach and Kure Beach—would flood from Hurricane Florence’s massive storm surge.
But Jimmy Lentz never left Carolina Beach. The 64-year-old was born on the island and rode out 14 hurricanes in his lifetime.
Lentz—dressed in a yellow T-shirt, green Bermuda shorts, and a Carolina Panthers cap pulled over gray hair—was ambling down Carolina Beach Avenue on Monday afternoon enjoying the sunshine after being trapped on the island for six days. “I’ve survived 14 hurricanes,” he told The Daily Beast. “I give this one a seven out of 10. Middle of the pack.”
Overall, he was content holed up in his small apartment napping and eating lunch meat. “I can survive on sandwiches for days,” he said. But Florence lingered, which surprised Lentz. Past storms usually last a day or two and then blow out of the area. “I sure didn’t think that sucker would hang out all week,” Lentz said.
Carolina Beach residents and officials felt like they dodged a bullet. “We were very blessed,” Carolina Beach Town Manager Michael Kramer said.
When asked if he had another hurricane in him, Lentz smirked. “Yeah, probably,” he said and then continued his walk down the road. “It’s a record I really didn’t shoot for.”