Residents of communities near industrial-scale hog farms in North Carolina face an increased risk of potentially deadly diseases, Duke University scientists reported in a study  released this week.
Researchers found that compared to communities without big hog farms, in the communities with the highest hog farm density, there were 30 percent more deaths among patients with kidney disease, 50 percent more deaths among patients with anemia, and 130 percent more deaths among patients with a blood bacterial infection, called sepsis. The communities near the heaviest concentration of large hog farms also had a greater risk of infant mortality and lower birth weight.
Duke scientists analyzed 2007-2013 data for disease-specific hospital admissions, emergency room visits and deaths across North Carolina. They compared the incidence of those health indicators among North Carolinians who live one to three miles from a hog farm to residents who live six to 12 miles away. An estimated 650,000 North Carolinians live within three miles of a large hog farm, according to an EWG geospatial analysis of state data, which was not part of the Duke study.
The senior author of the new study was Dr. H. Kim Lyerly, the George Barth Geller Professor of Cancer Research; professor of surgery, immunology and pathology; and director of the Environmental Health Scholars Program at Duke University. He emphasized that communities living near hog farms had significantly worse health outcomes, including higher rates of infants with low birth weight.
“Interventions, such as screening and/or early detection, could be employed in these communities to reduce the burden of these diseases,” Lyerly said. “The overall benefit to the communities and to the state would be significant.”
“The average number of hogs per farm in North Carolina is much higher than in two other states with extensive pig farming, Iowa and Minnesota. Yet, North Carolina’s population is greater, which means the number of people affected is substantial,” said Dr. Julia Kravchenko, assistant professor in the Duke University Department of Surgery and the primary researcher for the study.