Monday, August 08, 2016

Hog-farm runoff polluting Illinois waterways; state agencies have limited roles and a light hand

Four years after runoff from Hopkins Ridge Farms, a large-scale hog farm in Illinois, polluted more than 20 miles of Beaver Creek, wiping out at least 148,283 fish and 17,563 freshwater mussels, the creek's aquatic life is only now beginning to recover, David Jackson and Gary Marx report for the Chicago Tribune as part of an investigative series. "Authorities also have yet to collect penalties and cleanup costs from the confinement's influential owners—agribusiness executives who operate facilities in Illinois and Indiana that house tens of thousands of pigs. They deny responsibility." (To view the interactive map click here)

As hog confinements like Hopkins Ridge, which has more than 8,000 pigs, "spring up across Illinois, producing massive amounts of manure, a new pollution threat has emerged: spills that blacken creeks and destroy fish, damaging the quality of life in rural communities," Jackson and Marx write. "The lagoons that hold pig manure until farms can use it as fertilizer sometimes crumble or overflow. Leaks gush from the hoses and pipes that carry waste to the fields. And in some instances, state investigators found polluting was simply 'willful' as confinement operators dumped thousands of gallons of manure they couldn't use or sell as fertilizer."

The Tribune, which analyzed "thousands of pages from state agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the attorney general's office, found that pollution incidents from hog confinements killed at least 492,000 fish from 2005 through 2014—nearly half of the 1 million fish killed in water pollution incidents statewide during that period," Jackson and Marx write. "Pig waste impaired 67 miles of the state's rivers, creeks and waterways over that time. Using either measure, no other industry came close to causing the same amount of damage."

"Confinements with multimillion-dollar annual revenues often paid just a few thousand dollars in fines after causing massive fish kills," Jackson and Marx write. "Many went to court to challenge authorities; since 2005, the state attorney general has filed or resolved at least 26 pollution lawsuits against swine confinements. Some operators polluted repeatedly. And the multistate pork producers who supply the pigs and profit from the confinements were rarely held accountable, the Tribune found."

"The state agencies responsible for protecting waterways and aquatic life—the EPA and DNR—play limited roles in determining where new confinements can be located or assessing their potential pollution risks," Jackson and Marx write. "Instead, Illinois livestock confinements are granted permits solely by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, whose mission is to promote livestock agriculture as well as regulate it. Under state law, the department cannot consider a confinement owner's environmental record when reviewing an application to build a new site, and officials have issued numerous new permits to operators with multiple infractions." (Read more)

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