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Thousands of pig carcasses drowned in BC floods won’t pollute environment, composting plant says

Thousands of pig carcasses drowned in BC floods won’t pollute environment, composting plant says

WARNING: This story contains graphic images of stacked pig carcasses

The owner of an industrial composting facility in the British Columbia interior is condemning what he calls misinformation after images of thousands of pig carcasses piled up near the Similkameen River surfaced in local media.

The photos were published in the community media castanet last Tuesday, along with complaints from the Upper Similkameen Indian Band that rotting pigs could pose a danger to land and water.

But Mateo Ocejo, who runs the Net Zero Waste Eastgate facility 50 miles southwest of Princeton, says the animals pose no risk to humans or the environment.

Although he admits the footage was disturbing, Ocejo says there was no other way to handle the nearly 10,000 pigs, weighing a total of 700 tonnes, after they drowned in floods in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia last November.

A colossal number of pig carcasses near the Similkameen River were captured by an anonymous photographer, who submitted the graphic photo to community media Castanet. (Castagne)

Ocejo, a practicing engineer, says he received a call from the Ministry of Agriculture last month to recycle the huge amount of pig carcasses.

“It was a disaster and they were in the standing water on the farm, polluting the water,” he said.

Ocejo says it complied with BC requirements Regulation respecting the recycling of organic materials to help carcasses decompose.

“We use Gore-Tex jackets to encapsulate the material and keep it out of contact with the environment, out of contact with snow or rain,” Ocejo said. “It also keeps all the moisture and bacteria inside the recycling pile in the pile to help materials break down faster.”

Thousands of pig carcasses drowned in BC floods won’t pollute environment, composting plant says
Pig carcasses are covered in Gore-Tex tarps at the Net Zero Waste Eastgate facility. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The British Columbia Ministry of Environment describes the floods that ravaged the Lower Mainland and interior regions last year – which killed an estimated 650,000 poultry, pigs, cattle and other farm animals – as “unprecedented” in the province’s history.

Threats and backlash

Ocejo says he’s faced threats and backlash since the footage was released last week, and he was upset that he wasn’t initially given the chance to provide context about what happened.

“We had comments from people who thought we had killed the pigs. For some reason they asked if we were responsible for this and asked how those dead bodies could go and [spread] disease and… just a lot of misinformation,” Ocejo said.

Castanet’s story quotes an Upper Similkameen Indian Band official saying the massive amount of bio-waste could contaminate the river and groundwater, which Ocejo says is not true.

The group also sent a letter of complaint to the City of Princeton on January 11, saying its staff had discovered the colossal amount of pig carcasses at the Net Zero Waste facility on December 10 and found that leachate and contaminated water were draining directly from the facility to the vicinity of the Similkameen River.

“We are concerned that the industrial-scale processing of waste, including biosolids and massive numbers of animal carcasses, is occurring without adequate oversight, and with potentially serious ecological and cultural impacts, including threats to our ground and surface water,” the letter reads.

The Upper Similkameen Indian Band has also asked the municipality to cancel its support for Net Zero Waste until the facility can demonstrate that it operates in accordance with provincial environmental regulations.

CBC contacted the First Nation several times for comment, but did not hear back.

contamination problem

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne says his town has in the past received carcasses of chickens killed by bird flu from Fernie and other communities in the interior of British Columbia, but he admits his residents still fear that dead animals transported from other regions will pollute the local environment.

“I’m very concerned about the water supply system and what’s going on, and that’s what we all have on a regular basis whenever any of these things happen,” Coyne said.

Thousands of pig carcasses drowned in BC floods won’t pollute environment, composting plant says
Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said his community remains concerned that animal carcasses being transported from other areas could pollute the local environment. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Department of the Environment told CBC its staff visited the Net Zero Waste facility on Dec. 21 to assess whether it was operating in accordance with organics recycling regulations and the Environmental Management Actand will issue an inspection report in due course.

“We expect all animals and their remains to be treated with respect as we continue to respond to the impacts of the flooding,” the ministry’s written statement read.

WATCH | The First Nation is concerned that cattle killed in the floods pose an environmental risk:

Thousands of pig carcasses drowned in BC floods won’t pollute environment, composting plant says

British Columbia First Nation concerned about environmental impact of livestock killed in flooding

A First Nation in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley is concerned about the environmental impact of the decomposition and processing of livestock killed in fall flooding. 2:03

Doug Davidson, operations manager for the Vancouver-based West Coast Reduction company that organized much of the carcass cleanup after the floods, including 2,000 pig carcasses, says more natural disasters could occur in British Columbia. British in the future, which means a continued demand for composting facilities to recycle a large amount of dead animals.

“It’s not the first disaster and unfortunately it won’t be the last,” he said.

He says pig and poultry carcasses will be reduced in soil additives, oils and proteins, but cattle carcasses could not be recycled and have already been sent to landfills.

The Net Zero Waste company says it may take a year to recycle the 10,000 pig carcasses.

Thousands of pig carcasses drowned in BC floods won’t pollute environment, composting plant says
Aerial view of rows of tarped pig carcasses at the Net Zero Waste facility, which indicates it could take a year for them all to decompose. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)