Impacts of waste from concentrated animal feeding operations on water quality

J. Burkholder
B. Libra
P. Weyer
S. Heathcote


Waste from agricultural livestock operations has been a long-standing concern with respect to contamination of water resources, particularly in terms of nutrient pollution. However, the recent growth of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) presents a greater risk to water quality because of both the increased volume of waste and to contaminants that may be present (e.g., antibiotics and other veterinary drugs) that may have both environmental and public health importance. Based on available data, generally accepted livestock waste management practices do not adequately or effectively protect water resources from contamination with excessive nutrients, microbial pathogens, and pharmaceuticals present in the waste. Impacts on surface water sources and wildlife have been documented in many agricultural areas in the United States. Potential impacts on human and environmental health from long-term inadvertent exposure to water contaminated with pharmaceuticals and other compounds are a growing public concern. This work-group, which is part of the Conference on Environmental Health Impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Anticipating Hazards--Searching for Solutions, identified needs for rigorous ecosystem monitoring in the vicinity of CAFOs and for improved characterization of major toxicants affecting the environment and human health. Last, there is a need to promote and enforce best practices to minimize inputs of nutrients and toxicants from CAFOs into freshwater and marine ecosystems.