Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel could slaughter up to 9 million hogs a year12 percent more than now allowedunder a draft wastewater permit proposed this month by the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources.

The increase at the world’s largest hog processing plant has environmental implications, says Michelle Nowlin, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, because “more hogs mean more waste.”

There are also concerns the additional hogs will pressure employees to work more quickly, raising safety concerns (see “Workers at Smithfield: Like hogs to slaughter“).

The company requested the increase over its previous permit, which expired in October, to handle hogs that had been slaughtered at a Virginia plant that closed.

Although Smithfield has slightly decreased its groundwater use since 2003, the company had requested that DENR remove the limit on withdrawals, says permit writer Teresa Rodriguez. DENR proposed a cap of 2 million gallons of withdrawals each day.

Nowlin says federal geologists are concerned that excessive withdrawals already have damaged the area’s underground water supply. Monitoring data show a decline in the amount of available groundwater, which can affect private wells in the largely rural area.

A public hearing is set March 15 at 7 p.m. at Bladen County Community College in Dublin, 7418 N.C. 41 West. Comments before the hearing can be submitted by fax to (919) 733-0719 or in writing to: N.C. Division of Water Quality/Point Source Branch, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617, Attn: Teresa Rodriguez. Refer to Permit No. NC0078344.