By Leah Murphy ’17, Staff Writer
Project Title: High Density Poultry: Health Risk or Opportunity?
Student: Dalton Stewart ’19, environmental engineering
Mentor: Professor Deborah Sills, civil & environmental engineering
Agricultural runoff in Pennsylvania poses potential health risks because of its eutrophication of waterways, as well as human exposure to pathogens present in animal manures. A great deal of research is therefore looking into alternative uses for manure. Environmental engineering student Dalton Stewart ’19 spent the past summer collecting and recording data on all high-density poultry operations within the 38 Pennsylvania counties served by the Geisinger Health System so that researchers could better measure the effect of proximity to concentrated poultry operations and concentrated animal-feeding operations on the occurrence of infectious diseases in humans.
Interestingly, Stewart’s motivation for taking on the project has a personal connection. Growing up on a farm, Stewart regularly applied manure to land. Now, knowing the potential health risks associated with this practice because of agricultural runoff, he is interested in further researching the specifics of these health effects. He believes it is important that society do as much as it can to protect water quality for both health and environmental reasons.
Nearly all of the data Stewart is analyzing pertaining to local poultry operations and applied manure has been extracted from local authorities. To obtain it, Stewart had to contact local county conservation district offices and ask to inspect their poultry nutrient management plans. His next step will be to convert the data into a map showing poultry manure density. In the future, Stewart plans to combine this data with health data from Geisinger to see whether there is a correlation between poultry manure and incidences of disease. Additionally, his research advisor, Professor Deborah Sills, plans to use the map to analyze the economics of using poultry manure as a fuel source.
Having been funded by Bucknell’s Program for Undergraduate Research for this project, Stewart feels it was extremely beneficial to pursue personal research this past summer. Not only has he learned to independently solve complex problems, but his research offers the opportunity of improving both environmental quality and human health. Steward said Professor Sills proved to be an excellent mentor who offered him extensive advice on research methods, laboratory work, graduate school and professional engineering. “Working with her on this project strengthened my belief that I made the right choice of major and future career,” he said.