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J Appl Microbiol. 2008 Sep;105(3):848-57. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2008.03811.x. Epub 2008 Apr 17.

The air-borne distribution of zoonotic agents from livestock waste spreading and microbiological risk to fresh produce from contaminated irrigation sources.

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Division of Farm Animal Science, Department of Clinical Veterinary Science, Bristol University, Langford, Bristol, UK.



To assess the risks of zoonotic agents in dissemination of livestock wastes into the environment by airborne distribution. To subsequently assess the survival time of zoonotic agents, introduced in irrigation water, on the phylloplane of produce.


An Escherichia coli marker was introduced into pig slurry which was spread using a rain gun sprayer. Air sampling was undertaken to determine the distance reached by the marker. No recoveries were observed at a distance of 250 m. Borehole water, contaminated with zoonotic agents, was used to irrigate field plots sown with lettuce and spinach. Decline in bacterial numbers on the phylloplane was observed with time. After initial rapid decreases, we were unable to detect any pathogen from the phylloplane, 1 month after contamination.


These preliminary results suggest that the risks to public health from the aerosolized spread of bacteria during slurry spreading by rain gun are low. Although, zoonotic agents on crop phylloplanes perish quickly, the risks of overhead irrigation of fresh produce 3 weeks before harvest should still be considered.


These preliminary results improve our understanding on the fate of zoonotic agents in the environment. Spreading liquid livestock wastes by an airborne mechanism may not pose a significant public health risk. Detection of zoonotic agents 3 weeks after contamination of lettuce and spinach means that consideration should be given by the farmers until the time of harvest, when irrigating fresh produce with water that may have been directly or indirectly contaminated by livestock wastes.

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