Murphy-Brown faces new legal challenge after ignoring agreement to clean up hog farm contamination

CHAPEL HILL — Conservation groups filed a motion in federal court seeking to require Murphy-Brown to comply with a 2006 agreement to clean up groundwater contamination at 11 hog facilities in eastern North Carolina.

Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, Inc, the largest pork producer in the world, had faced four different legal challenges relating to Clean Water Act violations from its massive industrial hog farms, before a 2006 agreement with Waterkeeper Alliance and the Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation (now Sound Rivers, Inc.) was reached. But a motion filed today by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Waterkeeper Alliance and Sound Rivers alleges that Murphy-Brown has failed to comply with a central component of the agreement—remedying demonstrated groundwater hazards at 11 of its hog facilities in North Carolina.

“Murphy Brown has not upheld its commitment to address significant risks to groundwater from its hog facilities, and as a result, its facilities continue to threaten water quality in eastern North Carolina,” said Geoff Gisler, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We’re asking the court to require the company to make good on its promises.”

Under the terms of the agreement, an independent groundwater expert chosen by the parties evaluated Murphy-Brown owned and operated swine facilities in eastern North Carolina for potential contamination of groundwater by swine waste. That review identified 11 facilities with demonstrated threats to groundwater. As part of the review, the expert identified additional groundwater sampling needed to ensure that groundwater contamination at each site is cleaned up.

“This agreement had been a positive step toward addressing pollution plaguing nearby communities,” said Gray Jernigan, Raleigh-based staff attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance. “It’s unfortunate that Smithfield Foods and Murphy-Brown have decided not to fulfill their obligations and have forced us to return to the courts.”

Murphy-Brown refuses to allow the consultant to take necessary groundwater samples. Through this motion, the Southern Environmental Law Center asks the court to require the company to adhere to the requirements of the agreement between the parties and allow the consultant to gather necessary data to develop corrective action plans for each of the 11 identified sites that pose a threat to groundwater.

“For every day that Murphy-Brown fails to act, the waterways of eastern North Carolina are threatened by waste from swine farms owned and operated by Murphy-Brown,” said Travis Graves, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper.

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