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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Impacts to a Coastal River and Estuary from Rupture of a Large Swine Waste Holding Lagoon


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 26 No. 6, p. 1451-1466

    * Corresponding author(s): joann.burkholder@ncsu.edu
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  1. JoAnn M. Burkholder *,
  2. Michael A. Mallin,
  3. Howard B. Glasgow Jr.,
  4. L. Michael Larsen,
  5. Matthew R. McIver,
  6. G. Christopher Shank,
  7. Nora Deamer-Melia,
  8. David S. Briley,
  9. Jeffrey Springer,
  10. Brant W. Touchette and
  11. Elle K. Hannon
  1. Dep. of Botany, North Carolina State Univ., Box 7612, Raleigh, NC 27695-7612;
    Center for Marine Science Res., Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington, NC 28403.



We tracked a swine waste spill (4.13 × 107 L) into a small receiving river and estuary. After 2 d, a 29-km freshwater segment that the wastes had traversed was anoxic, with ca. 4000 dead fish floating and hung in shoreline vegetation. Suspended solids, nutrients, and fecal coliforms were 10- to 100-fold higher at the plume's edge (71.7 mg SS/L, 39.6 mg NH+4-N/L, and >1 × 106 cfu/100 mL, respectively; cfu, colony forming units, SS; suspended solids) than in unaffected reference sites. Elevated nutrients and an oxygen sag from the plume reached the main estuary after ca. 5 d. Increased phytoplankton production was contributed by noxious algae, Synechococcus aeruginosa and Phaeocystis globosa (108 and 106 cells/mL, respectively) after 7 to 14 d. The toxic dinoflagellates, Pfiesteria piscicida and a second Pfiesteria-like species, increased to potentially lethal densities (103 cells/mL) that coincided with a fish kill and ulcerative epizootic. After 14 d, water-column fecal coliforms generally were at 102 to 103 cfu/100 mL. But where the plume had hovered for the first 5 d, surface sediments mostly yielded ≥104 cfu/100 mL slurry, and after 61 d densities in surficial sediments were still at 103 to 104 cfu/100 mL. Dinoflagellate and euglenoid blooms developed and moved downestuary, where they were detected after 61 d. This study documented acute impacts to surfacewaters from a concentrated swine operation, and examined some environmental policies affecting the intensive animal operation industry.

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