The potential impact of flooding on confined animal feeding operations in eastern North Carolina

Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Apr;110(4):387-91. doi: 10.1289/ehp.02110387.


Thousands of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have been constructed in eastern North Carolina. The fecal waste pit and spray field waste management systems used by these operations are susceptible to flooding in this low-lying region. To investigate the potential that flood events can lead to environmental dispersion of animal wastes containing numerous biologic and chemical hazards, we compared the geographic coordinates of 2,287 CAFOs permitted by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) with estimates of flooding derived from digital satellite images of eastern North Carolina taken approximately 1 week after Hurricane Floyd dropped as much as 15-20 inches of rain in September 1999. Three cattle, one poultry, and 237 swine operations had geographic coordinates within the satellite-based flooded area. DWQ confirmed 46 operations with breached or flooded fecal waste pits in the same area. Only 20 of these 46 CAFOs were within the satellite-based estimate of the inundated area. CAFOs within the satellite-based flood area were located in 132 census block groups with a population of 171,498 persons in the 2000 census. African Americans were more likely than whites to live in areas with flooded CAFOs according to satellite estimates, but not according to DWQ reports. These areas have high poverty rates and dependence on wells for drinking water. Our analysis suggests that flood events have a significant potential to degrade environmental health because of dispersion of wastes from industrial animal operations in areas with vulnerable populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Agriculture*
  • Animal Feed
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Disasters*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Female
  • Geography
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Information Systems
  • Male
  • Manure*
  • Minority Groups
  • North Carolina
  • Poultry
  • Poverty
  • Refuse Disposal
  • Swine
  • Water Movements
  • Water Pollution / analysis*


  • Manure