Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Plasmic arcs and pigs
Electrons on the river
By Mike Masterson
Posted: November 18, 2014 at 3:03 a.m.
OK now, let's see if I have this straight.
A Florida company called the Plasma Energy Group, formed in 2013, says it uses electrons to neutralize human waste with no harmful emissions. Its management wrote to the owners of C&H hog factory at Mount Judea to say its controversial large concentrated animal feeding operation could resolve all the factory's potential pollution problems in the fragile Buffalo National River watershed by using the group's revolutionary "plasma arc" method that's yet to prove it can properly and safely vaporize hog waste.
Now our state agency, that should never have permitted a hog factory to set up in this nationally treasured, karst-riddled region to begin with, insists it wants results from air tests preferably conducted offsite (and its potential effects on air quality) before it decides if and how to allow the vaporization process at the factory.
The Plasma Group, which applied for an air quality permit about three months ago, claims its machine can poof millions of gallons of hog waste in such a way that environmentally harmless emissions would be less than those spewed from a commercial lawn mower.
The hog factory's owner and operator tells a reporter this technology would be implemented hopefully to "pacify the environmentalists." Gordon Watkins, who as head of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance I count as among those dastardly "environmentalists," says he's not sold at all. In fact, he said such unproven technology when it comes to eliminating swine waste sounds to him like "putting lipstick on a pig" and calling it something else.
Does it strike anyone else that our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) has nurtured, even lovingly shepherded, this Cargill-supported swine factory since the time it submitted its application to operate in the worst possible location our state can offer? Considering the feedback I continue to receive from across Arkansas, I see many who most assuredly see it just that way. And no, I'm certainly not speaking only of "environmentalists." I am speaking of those who over their lifetimes have experienced the remarkable majesty of this river and all it offers for our state and its people, not to mention those who come from other states to enjoy its national stature.
To state "the environmentalists" oppose this factory approved in such an inappropriate location is worse than misleading; it leaves the entirely wrong impression. What I hear repeatedly from across Arkansas is that people simply can't believe the ADEQ would ever have allowed such a travesty to occur. The next question they invariably raise is why would the state turn twisting backflips to quietly and rapidly accommodate one Newton County family's factory and Cargill (conveniently using a less restrictive General Permit) without consulting with, or even notifying, the National Park Service, Game and Fish, the state's health department and on and on?
And today, as a result of such negligence, our state's taxpayers are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars so the state's university can monitor the potentially polluting effects of this state-approved factory's waste. All to benefit one hog factory supported by an enormous, privately owned multinational corporation. Huh?
Just imagine, there are some in Arkansas who think the secretive way this was done and these needless and expensive inner-state agency contortions actually make sense.
After two years of capping and recapping events, most readers know the bleak, frankly unbelievable, history of this mess that should never have happened.
Now comes this Florida company claiming it can solve everyone's concerns by vaporizing millions of gallons of waste from as many as 6,500 swine and limiting the darned near purified results on the factory's site. Today, swine waste is stored in two lagoons at the factory before being sprayed on fields underlain by cracked and leaky limestone around Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo flowing just six miles downstream.
I'm not qualified to judge the potential success or failure of this super-duper, plasmagoric Buck Rogers technology that zaps pig waste into water without so much as a potentially harmful release. If it works as advertised I'll be the first to recommend sticking these machines on every swine, cattle and poultry factory across our nation. But why think small? Perhaps this gizmo could eliminate the need for mega-expensive community sewer systems altogether!
Meanwhile, the good people of Mount Judea continue to inhale airborne fumes from the manure being spread around their community and wait breathlessly for the possibility of relief. I'm just pleased to know the knowledgeable and objective expertise of emeritus geosciences professor John Van Branaha and his band of volunteers as well as the National Park Service (who still can't fathom how the state would do this to them) continue to measure and examine water quality and flow from beneath and around this factory.
As I've steadfastly maintained since 2012 when news of the swine factory finally leaked out much too late, the only true solution to ending this controversy that should never have ignited is to move the thing out of the Buffalo National River watershed. Cargill, Smithfield and others who deal in the swine market support plenty of their factories in locations actually suitable to that industry. I promise they can easily afford to do the right thing by our state.