Are Spills from Swine Lagoons Causing Downstream Health Hazards?

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There are no national databases or tracking of the number or frequency of manure spills in the United States. Some past spills have been shown to result from events such as equipment failures, over-application of manure to agricultural fields, runoff from open feedlots, storage overflow, accidents with manure transporting equipment, severe weather events, or possibly deliberate actions.

Our specialized teams of hydrologists, chemists, biologists and geologists, in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, studied a stream in Iowa after the release of a large volume of swine manure (a manure spill) caused a fish kill in the impacted stream.

The scientists observed an increase in viruses and bacteria, which have the potential to cause human or swine disease, in the stream water and(or) stream bed sediments as far as 4 kilometers from the spill origin for several weeks.

Questions We're Working On:

  • How often and why do these spills occur?
  • Is there an actual health hazard posed to downstream livestock, wildlife, or the public as a result of these spills?
USGS scientist collecting a water sample from the stream prior to the swine manure spill

USGS scientist collecting a water sample from the stream prior to the swine manure spill.  (Credit: Dana W Kolpin, US Geological Survey. Public domain.)