A coalition of four environmental groups have joined together to try to stop pollution of the Nation’s first federally protected river. Although the Buffalo National River park boundary is only a narrow strip of land a scant mile or less on either side of the river, the watershed that drains into the Buffalo is several thousand miles.
A Hog factory was permitted by a previously unused process that allowed for scant public notification. The park service and several other agencies were unaware of the plan to house 6,300 hogs in the watershed. Although the park service can’t control the watershed, they should certainly have some input. They didn’t.
C & H Hog Farm is in the watershed on Big Creek about six miles upstream from the Buffalo, but outside the park boundary. The farm is described by an ecologist for the National Park as the largest hog operation in the state. Disposal of the hog feces and urine is by land application to several hundred acres of hay fields bordering Big Creek and very near the Mount Judea Public Schools. The total volume of waste is on the order of 2 to 4 million gallons per year.
It is not a question of if but when these pollutants make their way to the river. It is not a matter of if but the amount of nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorous which will pollute the Buffalo. The nutrients will cause algal blooms that can kill fish and other aquatic organisms.It is only a matter of time until bacteria from the pigs contaminates the Buffalo and possibly causes it to be closed to human contact.
Cargill, in direct meetings with representatives of the coalition, essentially admitted that it was a mistake to locate the factory farm there. It currently has a multi-year contract to buy the hogs produced at the factory. Cargill assured the coalition that it would take several steps in mitigation but would not close nor relocate the operation.
Currently the holding lagoons are only lined with clay which is prone to crack and leak.The problem is exacerbated by the porous limestone topography. Cargill has promised to line the lagoons with a synthetic liner. It also promised to cover one of the lagoons which is a source of toxic gasses such as Ammonia and Hydrogen Sulfide. The collected gasses would be flared off, creating a whole new set of gaseous pollutants.
Cargill has also promised to examine the use of Plasma Arc Pyrolysis to deal with the feces and urine, rather than land apply the waste. This will require running close to a 100,000 lbs per day of liquid wastes between two arcing electrodes in an inert atmosphere like Argon. All water would be vaporized and all solid wastes converted to a type of char similar to charcoal. If the process is run as described, the electric bill alone will run to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
This process has been used previously on dry medical wastes, but never on liquid wastes nor on this scale. It could be a dangerous process which would best be tested outside the watershed and away from the public school.