Cape Fear River Watch files complaint over poultry waste on Sampson County farm

Cape Fear River Watch Chicken Farm
Sampson County Farm with poultry litter piles (Photo: Cape Fear River Watch)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY)– A local environmental protection nonprofit is expressing concerns over how North Carolina monitors millions of pounds of waste produced by poultry farms.

Cape Fear River Watch filed a complaint with the state after discovering mountains of chicken waste and bedding, that was left sitting for a year and a half.

They discovered the waste in June of 2021, but waited to see if the state would ever take action.

According to the complaint from Cape Fear River Watch filed in November, the farm in Sampson County has three waste piles in a field near what appeared to be old poultry barns.

Two of the piles were estimated to be the size of a standard poultry barn, and the other pile close to one-third the size of a poultry barn.

The poultry litter is commonly used as fertilizer.

Cape Fear River Watch took photos documenting the piles for more than a year, with the last photo taken in October.

“We continued to fly over this site throughout the year. we took water quality samples, we took antibiotic samples, and we saw just what you would expect to see, is that these enormous piles of waste have impacts on waterways. They add to the bacteria in these water ways. They add to the antibiotics that are found in waterways and that this is a big systemic problem,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear River Watch Riverkeeper.

Cape Fear River Watch also says vegetative growth on the waste suggested the waste had been on the site for a prolonged period of time.

In a statement from North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources regarding the complaint it reads in part “DWR regional office staff are investigating this complaint. With any complaint, inspectors will visit a site, looking for signs of discharge and assessing the composition of a litter pile. Dry litter piles cannot remain uncovered for more than 15 days, and this is typically confirmed with multiple inspections.”

Poultry operations in North Carolina that use dry waste systems, also known as dry litter poultry operations, are not required to obtain permits from the Division of Water Resources and are deemed permitted, but there are some requirements for these operations.

Cape Fear River Watch monitored for nutrient and bacterial contaminants in a downstream tributary that feeds into the Black River, and later the Cape Fear River. Improperly discarded waste can lead to algae blooms and fish kills in local waterways.

“We need to take a look as a state, at what kind of impacts that poultry industry is having on people, on communities, on waterways, on our health, –and the way we do that is by a poultry study, bill. We need to introduce a bill into the general assembly that says look this is a big important issue, and we know almost nothing about it, and what we do know is it doesn’t look good. What we do know is there is very little ability for communities and for the state to regulate this industry,” said Burdette.

Kemp Burdette has been in communication with other riverkeepers across the state, and they hopes to bring awareness to the issue, as North Carolina has more than 5,700 farm families that produce poultry and eggs.

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