In Canada, livestock (swine, cattle) and poultry are now more often concentrated and confined in large operations. Millions of tons of waste are produced annually and spreading of manure has never been closer to urban developments. In 2006, the Canadian livestock industry produced about half a million tons of manure daily. Although manure spreading benefits crop production, it can be a source of pollution with impacts on the environment as well as human and animal health. For example, bacteria found in manure have been detected in drinking water supplies. The use of manure as a crop fertilizer has also been associated with odour nuisances and gases as well as the contamination of fruits and vegetables with foodborne pathogens. Public concern has consequently increased regarding the impact of manure spreading on human and animal health. Even if underestimated, there is a significant health risk associated with the fugitive emissions following manure spreading. Human and animal pathogens and antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present in wastes and may potentially be aerosolized in large quantities when spreading on agricultural lands. Once airborne, these contaminants can then affect the health of workers, animals, and surrounding rural communities.
Many regulatory authorities dictate minimal setback distances for manure spreading near houses or other buildings. However, these requirements are generally based on nuisances for the surrounding populations and do not take into account the health risks associated with manure spreading.
A variety of contaminants from animal husbandry have been identified due to their potential to be present at sufficient concentrations to affect human health: ammonia (NH3), hydrogen sulphide (H2S), odours, respirable dust, and bioaerosols. These contaminants are generally associated with animal buildings, but they can also be emitted in large quantities following manure spreading. NH3, H2S, and certain odorous compounds can be irritant or even toxic for humans. NH3 also contributes to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM) that is linked to human respiratory problems. For NH3, H2S, and dust, most governments impose strict limits on workplace exposures. These concentration recommendations are often exceeded in livestock buildings, and they must be measured during manure spreading operations to make sure they don’t exceed the acceptable limits. Furthermore, these limits do not consider the cumulative effect of these contaminants, which can increase the health risks for workers and rural populations.
Odours can also have various psychological effects on rural populations, such as tension, depression, anger, and a decrease in vigour, fatigue and confusion. The cumulative and synergistic effects of contaminants (gases, dust, and microorganisms) and odours can represent increased risks, however still misunderstood, for rural populations. The nuisance and the perceived health risks associated with agricultural odours can seriously undermine the social acceptability of the livestock industry.
Regarding airborne microorganisms, a few zoonotic agents are considered in the literature to be of concern following manure spreading on agricultural lands: Campylobacter sp., Clostridium perfringens, verotoxigenic Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella spp. and Yersinia enterocolitica. Symptoms of nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting or diarrhea are usually associated with these foodborne pathogenic agents, but morbidity and mortality can occur in some infected humans or animals.
The potential risks are greatly increased when the resilience of some of these pathogens is considered. For example, the persistence of Salmonella can be counted in months in slurry and soils and in aquatic environments for the pathogenic agent Campylobacter. As a spore-forming organism, Clostridium perfringens is likely to be a long-time survivor in manure. E. coli O157: H7 may persist up to 2 months in manure. For Listeria monocytogenes, its ability to grow at low temperature (e.g. 4oC) in high (up to 12%) salt concentrations and at a range of pH from 5.5 to 9.0 contributes to its environmental persistence.
Even if understudied, manure is considered as a vehicle to disseminate animal viruses such as the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), the foot-and-mouth disease virus, the bovine viral diarrhea virus, the swine influenza virus, and the porcine parvovirus. All these animal viruses represent an economic burden for the Canadian livestock industry.
Inside livestock operations, aerosolization of zoonotic agents, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and viruses from manure are possible and have been demonstrated. However, notwithstanding the risks described here with the contaminants found in manure, there is a lack of knowledge on airborne contaminants associated with manure spreading and the risks are not well understood. Moreover, the few studies that have evaluated the emission of pathogenic agents used culture-dependent approaches or low volume air samplers, not suitable for outdoor sampling, and did not quantify emissions in standardized or environmentally-controlled conditions (e.g. using a portable wind tunnel). Furthermore, the type of manure spreading equipment (solid manure, splash plate or dribble bar for liquid manure) plays an important role in airborne emissions by influencing the exchange rate between manure and air. Once the risks are quantified, solutions limiting emissions from manure spreading can be put in place to protect the health of workers, animals and neighbours.
Aims of Project
The specific aims of this project:
- Quantify emissions of airborne contaminants following manure spreading.
- Evaluate the health risks associated with these fugitive emissions for workers, animals, and rural communities.
- Determine the best strategies to mitigate the risks and test the performance of these strategies in field conditions.
The results from this project will fill the gap in knowledge regarding airborne emissions from manure spreading activities and provide solutions to reduce the risk to human health.
For further information about this project, please contact Program Manager Nadia Smith at 306-966-1648 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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