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Potential Exposure to Bacteria and Viruses Weeks after Swine Manure Spill

Prior water-quality sample colection from stream
USGS scientist collecting a water sample from the stream prior to the swine manure spill. Photo Credit: Dana W. Kolpin, USGS.

Manure spills may be an underappreciated pathway for livestock-derived contaminants to enter streams. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied an Iowa stream after the release of a large volume of swine manure (a manure spill). The scientists observed an increase in viruses and bacteria, which have the potential to cause human or swine disease, in the stream water and bed sediment. This study applied molecular techniques to identify microbial contaminants that were transported as far as 4 kilometers from the spill origin. The microbial contaminants persisted for several weeks in stream water and sediments after the spill. This study documented that stream sediment was a persistent reservoir of contamination following this manure spill.

Discolored stream water after manure spill
View of stream water following a manure spill, which has strongly discolored the water. Photo Credit: Dana W. Kolpin, USGS.

Although there is no national database on the number or frequency of manure spills, such events often take place because of factors such as equipment failures, over-application, runoff from open feedlots, storage overflow, accidents with manure transporting equipment, severe weather events, or occasional deliberate actions. This study calls attention to the need for further information on manure spills and their consequences in terms of transmission of human and (or) livestock disease.

This study was funded by the USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program with additional support provided by the Osprey Foundation of Maryland and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health's Center for a Livable Future.


Haack, S.K., Duris, J.W., Kolpin, D.W., Fogarty, L.R., Johnson, H.E., Gibson, K.E., Focazio, M., Schwab, K.J., Hubbard, L.E., and Foreman, W.T., 2015, Genes indicative of zoonotic and swine pathogens are persistent in stream water and sediment following a swine manure spill: Applied and Environmental Microbiology, v. 81, no. 10, p. 3430-3441, doi:10.1128/aem.04195-14.

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