47,000 dead pigs threaten water in Yeoncheon

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47,000 dead pigs threaten water in Yeoncheon

Drinking water in Yeoncheon County, Gyeonggi, may have been contaminated by 47,000 pig carcasses that were left unburied last week after mass cullings to prevent the spread of African swine fever (ASF).

“The stream in the area was red with blood all day yesterday,” a resident of the county told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. “The pig carcasses were left piled up like that for days. It’s a serious problem because just 1 kilometer [0.6 mile] from here is the reservoir used for drinking water.”

In September and October, Yeoncheon had confirmed cases of ASF on two farms.

In October, authorities confirmed the ASF virus in eight wild boar carcasses discovered in Yeoncheon and the demilitarized zone. Yeoncheon borders the DMZ between the two Koreas. North Korea confirmed an outbreak of ASF in May. South Korea confirmed its first outbreak in September.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs ordered authorities in Yeoncheon to cull over 160,000 pigs between Oct. 21 and Sunday, which included pigs on unaffected farms.

The slaughter was carried out, but the county office couldn’t find enough land to bury 47,000 carcasses.

“We had to cull them all in such a short time. We couldn’t find a place to bury them in time,” an official of the Yeoncheon County Office told the JoongAng Ilbo. “So we left some piled up on a lot we borrowed from the military. As we did, some liquids from the carcasses flowed into a stream nearby.”

The county office said it blocked the stream from flowing into the reservoir since Sunday.

“We then pumped the water out of the stream from Sunday to Monday, trying to get all the leachate out,” the official said. “We intend to bury all the piled-up carcasses by Wednesday.”

“We’ve begun the process of testing the water in the reservoir and will be testing the water in the streams near where the pigs are buried,” an employee of county’s water authority told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The reservoir provides drinking water for 70,000 residents and soldiers in the area, according to Lee Seok-woo, head of a local civic group, the Yeoncheon Imjin River Citizen Network.

“The water reservoir provides 50,000 tons of drinking water every day to 70,000 residents and soldiers,” Lee said. “If the carcasses are not treated properly and punctually, this can lead to a serious man-made disaster. The authorities need to come up with measures to prevent similar occurrences in the future.”

The Agriculture Ministry said it will be working with the Environment Ministry and local governments to check the burial procedures of culled pigs throughout the country.

There were no new ASF cases reported in Korea since the end of October.

BY JEON ICK-JIN, ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]
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