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Genes indicative of zoonotic and swine pathogens are persistent in stream water and sediment following a swine manure spill

April 30, 2015

Manure spills to streams are relatively frequent, but no studies have characterized stream contamination with zoonotic and veterinary pathogens, or fecal chemicals, following a spill. We tested stream water and sediment over 25 days and downstream for 7.6 km for: fecal indicator bacteria (FIB); the fecal indicator chemicals cholesterol and coprostanol; 20 genes for zoonotic and swine-specific bacterial pathogens by presence/absence polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for viable cells; one swine-specific Escherichia coli toxin gene (STII) by quantitative PCR (qPCR); and nine human and animal viruses by qPCR, or reverse-transcriptase qPCR. Twelve days post-spill, and 4.2 km downstream, water concentrations of FIB, cholesterol, and coprostanol were 1-2 orders of magnitude greater than those detected before, or above, the spill, and genes indicating viable zoonotic or swine-infectious Escherichia coli, were detected in water or sediment. STII increased from undetectable before, or above the spill, to 105 copies/100 mL water 12 days post-spill. Thirteen of 14 water (8/9 sediment) samples had viable STII-carrying cells post-spill. Eighteen days post-spill porcine adenovirus and teschovirus were detected 5.6 km downstream. Sediment FIB concentrations (per gram wet weight) were greater than in water, and sediment was a continuous reservoir of genes and chemicals post-spill. Constituent concentrations were much lower, and detections less frequent, in a runoff event (200 days post-spill) following manure application, although the swine-associated STII and stx2e genes were detected. Manure spills are an underappreciated pathway for livestock-derived contaminants to enter streams, with persistent environmental outcomes, and the potential for human and veterinary health consequences.