Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps

Nick Hobbs, left, and Randy Shaw, right, of Marine Warehouse Center, remove a customer's boat from the water in advance of Hurricane Florence in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. (AP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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Florence could flood hog manure pits, coal ash dumps

  • To prepare for Florence, the North Carolina Pork Council says its members have pumped down lagoon levels to absorb at least 2 feet of rain
  • Florence is forecast to make landfall in the same region as a much stronger storm

WASHINGTON: Hurricane Florence’s heavy rains could cause an environmental disaster in North Carolina, where waste from hog manure pits, coal ash dumps and other industrial sites could wash into homes and threaten drinking water supplies.
Computer models predict more than 3 feet of rain in the eastern part of the state, a fertile low-lying plain veined by brackish rivers with a propensity for escaping their banks. Longtime locals don’t have to strain their imaginations to foresee what rain like that can do. It’s happened before.
In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd came ashore near Cape Fear as a Category 2 storm that dumped about 2 feet of water on a region already soaked days earlier by Hurricane Dennis. The result was the worst natural disaster in state history, a flood that killed dozens of people and left whole towns underwater, their residents stranded on rooftops.
The bloated carcasses of hundreds of thousands of hogs, chickens and other drowned livestock bobbed in a nose-stinging soup of fecal matter, pesticides, fertilizer and gasoline so toxic that fish flopped helplessly on the surface to escape it. Rescue workers smeared Vick’s Vapo-Rub under their noses to try to numb their senses against the stench.
Florence is forecast to make landfall in the same region as a much stronger storm.
“This one is pretty scary,” said Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University. “The environmental impacts will be from concentrated animal feeding operations and coal ash pits. Until the system gets flushed out, there’s going to be a lot of junk in the water.”
North Carolina has roughly 2,100 industrial-scale pork farms containing more than 9 million hogs — typically housed in long metal sheds with grated floors designed to allow the animals’ urine and feces to fall through and flow into nearby open-air pits containing millions of gallons of untreated sewage.
During Floyd, dozens of these lagoons either breached or were overtopped by floodwaters, spilling the contents. State taxpayers ended up buying out and closing 43 farms located in floodplains.
To prepare for Florence, the North Carolina Pork Council says its members have pumped down lagoon levels to absorb at least 2 feet of rain. Low-lying farms have been moving their hogs to higher ground.
“Our farmers and others in the pork industry are working together to take precautions that will protect our farms, our animals and our environment,” said Brandon Warren, the pork council’s president and a hog farmer. “The preparations for a hurricane began long before the past few hours or days. Our farmers take hurricane threats extremely seriously.”
The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that it would be monitoring nine toxic waste cleanup sites near the Carolinas coast for potential flooding. More than a dozen such Superfund sites in and around Houston flooded last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, with spills of potentially hazardous materials reported at two.
Also of concern are more than two dozen massive coal ash pits operated by Duke Energy, the state’s primary electricity provider. The gray ash that remains after coal is burned contains potentially harmful amounts of mercury, arsenic and lead.
Since power plants need vast amounts of water to generate steam, their unlined waste pits are located along lakes and rivers. Some of the pits were inundated during past storms, including during Floyd and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
After a 2014 spill at a Duke plant coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic gray sludge, state regulators forced the Charlotte-based company to begin phasing out its coal ash pits by 2029. Because that work was already underway, wastewater levels inside the ash ponds have been falling, Duke Energy spokesman Bill Norton said Tuesday.
“We’re more prepared than ever,” said Norton, adding that crews will be monitoring water levels at the pits throughout the storm.
The company is also preparing for potential shutdown of nuclear reactors at least two hours before the arrival of hurricane-force winds. Duke operates 11 reactors at six sites in the Carolinas, including the Brunswick Nuclear Plant located south of Wilmington near the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
The Brunswick plant’s two reactors are of the same design as those in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation following a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Following that disaster, federal regulators required all US nuclear plants to perform upgrades to better withstand earthquakes and flooding.
Duke Energy did not respond to requests for information about specific changes made at Brunswick, other than to say emergency generators and pumps will remove stormwater at the plant if it floods. The company issued assurances this week that it is ready for Florence, which is predicted to pack winds of up to 140 miles per hour and a 13-foot storm surge.
“They were safe then. They are even safer now,” said Kathryn Green, a Duke spokeswoman, referring to the post-Fukushima improvements. “We have backups for backups for backups.”


Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

Updated 16 November 2018
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Rohingya leaders to visit Myanmar

  • Community leaders will check on preparations for repatriation
  • Refugees who fled tents fearing forced repatriation have started to return

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: A group of Rohingya community leaders will go to Rakhine, Myanmar, to witness developments on the ground there, said Bangladesh Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali on Thursday evening in Dhaka.

Ali was talking to the journalists after his briefing to diplomats in Dhaka over the Rohingya repatriation and forthcoming general election. He said that during the briefing session diplomats came up with the idea of sending the Rohingya community leaders (Majhi) to witness the practical developments for repatriation.

“We agreed with this idea,” said Bangladesh Foreign Minister.

A group of community leaders will check the preparations initiated by Myanmar government and will brief their fellow Rohingyas after returning Bangladesh.

Ali said that there is a misconception among a few stakeholders that Bangladesh was trying to send back Rohingyas against their will.

“If we wanted to send the refugees forcibly, we won’t have allowed them in our country. We have shown a humanitarian gesture to them, so there is no question of sending them back forcibly,” Ali said.

“We will not send a single one of the refugees against their will. Those who will repatriate will go on their own will,” he added.

Talking to Arab News, Abul Kalam, Refugee, Relief and Repatriation Commissioner of Bangladesh said, they have not stopped the repatriation process. It will remain open and if any of the Rohingyas wants to go back home, Bangladesh authorities will initiate repatriation for him or her.

Commenting on the failure of the first attempt at repatriation Kalam said, “Now we need to create more pressure on Myanmar for the completion of some specific tasks to build confidence among the Rohingyas. In the next Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting, we will put up these issues after more scrutiny.”
However, the next JWG meeting date is yet to be fixed, Kalam said.

After a week of tension over feared repatriation, on Friday everything was peaceful in the Rohingya camps at Cox’s Bazar. The refugees who fled from their tents fearing forceful repatriation started returning to their shanties.

“The Myanmar authority wanted to deceive us in the name of so-called repatriation process. If we would have returned on Thursday, they (Myanmar) would never granted our citizenship rights,” said Mohammad Lutfor Rahman, 53, of Jamtoli camp, Ukhia, who fled from his own tent after hearing that he was listed as a returnee in the first group.

Why did the Rohingyas refuse to take the offer to go back home, Rahman was asked. He said, “Myanmar authorities have declared that the repatriated Rohingyas will be kept in the camps for 5 months or more, guarded by armed law enforcers and there were no clear guidelines if we can go back to our original places or villages. So, what is point of accepting a camp life proposal in Rakhine?”

Another refugee, Syed Alam, 37, of Kutupalang camp, told Arab News, “Before any kind of repatriation, our top most priority is the guarantee of citizenship and once it is granted many of our problems will be minimized.”

However, talking about the future course of repatriation, United Nations Human Rights agency, UNHCR spokesperson in Bangladesh, Fairas Al-Khateeb, said, “We will continue to assist the Bangladesh government in assessing the voluntariness for repatriation. Bangladesh and Myanmar have made the deal of repatriation bilaterally, we can’t say when it will actually take place.”