Joining together to create what they call the "largest coalition of environmental grass roots organizations ever assembled in North Carolina," two dozen groups working for environmental justice are holding a vigil this week outside the North Carolina legislature to draw attention to the state's hog waste pollution problem and the toll it's taking on people and the environment. The vigil will last for 51 hours -- one hour for each day lawmakers are expected to remain in session this year.

North Carolina is home to about 7 million hogs, making it second in the nation for hog production. Raising hogs in confined industrial operations creates an enormous amount of waste that's currently being sprayed on fields and stored in open cesspools known as "lagoons." Runoff from these operations is a big contributor to enormous nutrient pollution problem affecting the state's rivers.

In 1997, the N.C. legislature passed a moratorium on the creation of new hog lagoons as well as the expansion of existing ones. While the moratorium has been extended several times, it's currently set to expire this September.

The vigil participants -- which include religious, environmental advocacy and labor groups -- are pushing for legislation that would permanently ban hog waste lagoons and sprayfields. They also want lawmakers to set a date for phasing out current facilities, and to provide safe drinking water for people whose groundwater has been contaminated by hog waste pollution.

The vigil begins today at 3 p.m. and is set to last until 6 p.m. on Thursday. Participants will be offering educational materials and showing video documentaries on problems associated with industrial hog operations. They'll also be meeting with legislators to encourage them to take action.

For more details on the legislation under consideration, click here. For more on the vigil, click here.