… Officials from the NC Department of Environmental Quality are still investigating…
Hog farm that spilled 1 million gallons of feces, urine into waterways had been warned of lagoon problems
DC Mills Farm has familial ties to another operation that incurred a record fine
By Lisa Sorg, NC Policy Watch
A Jones County farm that spilled an estimated 1 million gallons of hog feces and urine into a tributary of the Trent River shortly before Christmas had been cited twice in the past year by state regulators because its lagoon was too full.
DC Mills Farms, along N.C. Highway 41 west of Trenton, received a Notice of Deficiency in February 2020 and a Notice of Violation in July, according to state environmental records.
Donnie Mills, who co-owns the farm with his wife, Christian Lanier Mills, raises hogs for Smithfield Foods. The farm is permitted to house as many as 3,520 hogs at a time.
Officials from the NC Department of Environmental Quality are still investigating why a portion of the lagoon failed, sending the waste into Tuckahoe Creek on Dec. 21. The lagoon has since been patched. “We are unable to characterize the extent of the environmental impact at this time,” DEQ spokesman Robert Johnson said, adding that sampling results are expected later this week.
Because of the location of DC Mills Farms, even a minor accident can cause major problems. The farm lies on a peninsula of land within a flood zone that includes a swamp. Tuckahoe Creek runs through the farm and adjacent to the hog lagoon before joining the Trent River, two and a half miles away.
Popular among boaters and fishing enthusiasts, the Trent River then flows northeast to New Bern, where it enters the Neuse River. The river empties into the Pamlico Sound, one of the state’s premier fishing areas and an important estuary.
On the afternoon of the spill, state regulators sampled surface water near the farm for fecal coliform, bacteria found in the intestines of people and animals. Testing showed levels of bacteria at 470 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, or 3.5 ounces. (This is the commonly used unit of measurement for the bacteria.) A second sample collected the same afternoon measured 340 colonies. Both far exceed the state’s surface water maximum of of 200 colonies per 100 milliliters.
A week after the spill, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper Katy Hunt sampled two areas: one upstream of DC Mills and another at a point a little over three miles downstream that receives inflow from multiple creeks. Levels of fecal bacteria were nearly three times higher downstream than upstream. Even a week later, the downstream concentration of one sample was 193.5 per 100 milliliters, below but nearing the state maximum. On Jan. 6, Hunt resampled those areas; the downstream concentration had decreased to 185.
However, there are three more swine farms near the tributaries and an unknown number of poultry operations, so DC Mills may not have been the sole source of the bacteria.
Smithfield Foods said it has removed the animals from DC Mills while the state investigation is ongoing. “The NC DEQ will complete an inquiry that will establish facts,” said Keira Lombardo, chief administrative officer for Smithfield Foods...
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