Manure spills: Detailing the damage, finding a fix

Mar 11, 2013 by Ann Perry
Manure spills: Detailing the damage, finding a fix
Soil scientist Doug Smith prepares a sample for nutrient analysis. Credit: Kossi Nouwakpo

A manure spill that reaches a nearby creek or river can create a serious environmental hazard because it significantly boosts phosphorus loads in the water. Now scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and their research partners have determined how channel sediments capture and release manure phosphorus, and have identified strategies for reducing phosphorus loads from manure spills.

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) soil scientist Doug Smith and Shalamar Armstrong, who is now an assistant professor at Illinois State University, conducted several studies on the issue. Smith works at the ARS National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory in West Lafayette, Ind. ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency.

The scientists collected sediments from two in Indiana's Cedar Creek Watershed. They added the sediments to an artificial channel and used swine manure minimally diluted with water to create their own worst-case "spill." After 24 hours, they cleaned up the "spill" using standard remediation protocols.

The researchers found the spill simulation initially resulted in an average dissolved concentration of 5.57 milligrams per liter, as measured in a water column. The concentrations dropped to between 0.19 and 0.21 milligrams per liter 24 hours later, but still exceeded U.S. (EPA) standards for rivers, stream, and drainage ditches in the Cedar Creek Watershed.

The scientists found that channel sediments initially adsorbed phosphorus from the water at rates ranging from 8.9 to 16.7 milligrams per square meter of sediment per hour. However, after the simulated "cleanup," all the sediments released phosphorus back into the water at rates that increased phosphorus loads to levels that exceeded EPA's maximum acceptable levels by at least 67 percent.

In another study, the researchers observed that amending the contaminated sediments with 1.6 milligrams of alum/calcium carbonate per gram of sediment suppressed phosphorus release in sandy sediments by 92 percent, and suppressed phosphorus release in clay loam and loamy sand sediments by 72 percent. Higher amendment levels suppressed phosphorus release in all three soil types by up to 100 percent.

Findings from the studies were published in the Journal of Environmental Quality and the Journal of Environmental Monitoring.

Explore further: New scientific review investigates potential influences on recent UK winter floods

More information: Read more about this research in the March 2013 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The lifetime journeys of manure-based microbes

Feb 22, 2013

Studies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are shedding some light on the microbes that dwell in cattle manure—what they are, where they thrive, where they struggle, and where they can end up.

Manure runoff depends on soil texture

Mar 29, 2011

Research has documented the rise of nutrient runoff from flat agricultural fields with high rates of precipitation that adds nitrates and phosphates to waterways.

Study probes sources of Mississippi River phosphorus

May 06, 2011

In their eagerness to cut nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, people have often sought simple explanations for the problem: too many large animal operations, for instance, or farmers ...

Tracking phosphorus runoff from livestock manure

Jun 14, 2010

Nutrient runoff from livestock manure is a common source of agricultural pollution. Looking for an uncommon solution, a team of scientists has developed an application of rare earth elements to control and track runoff phosphorus ...

Improve crop yield by removing manure solids

Mar 29, 2011

Manure has long been used as a crop fertilizer, but the challenge of finding an efficient use of the nutrients found in manure is ever present. The ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus in manure is low in relation to the nutrient ...

E. coli can survive in streambed sediments for months

Jul 01, 2011

Studies by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists have confirmed that the presence of Escherichia coli pathogens in surface waters could result from the pathogen's ability to survive for months in underwater sedime ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0