The Release and Mobility of Trace Elements from Poultry Litter: Insights from Field, Laboratory and Modeling Experiments

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Organoarsenic compounds and trace elements are added to poultry feed for disease control and improved productivity. These elements are excreted into poultry litter, which is land applied as fertilizer. This study utilized field and laboratory experiments to address the mobility of arsenic (As) and other litter-derived elements within the Broadkill River watershed, DE, a region of intense poultry production. For the first project, a litter application experiment was conducted at an instrumented field site in Sussex Co., DE. After establishing baseline geochemistry of soil water, ground water, and surface water at the site, poultry litter was then applied, followed by post litter application monitoring. Results showed low concentrations of As and other litter-derived elements in soil water; little impact was measured on ground or surface water. Mass balance calculations suggest that the majority of mass of leached elements was accounted for by uptake in underlying soils. The second project examined the impact of long-term litter application on chemical signatures of As, copper (Cu), zinc (Zn) and phosphorous (P) in stream sediments within the Broadkill River watershed. Sediment samples were collected from both upgradient and downgradient reaches within the watershed. Using GIS to overlay hydrology and land use, statistical relationships between As, Cu, Zn and P enrichment factors and land use were examined. Results did not show a relationship between these elements and agricultural land use, but did show a correlation between some of the elements and residential land use. The third project examined the influence of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) on the mobility of As, Cu, Zn and P using laboratory column experiments with soil from the field site. Two influent solutions were used: poultry litter leachate and a simulated solution of similar element concentrations, pH, and ionic strength but without DOC. Results showed that DOC enhanced the mobility of all four elements, but that even with DOC, 60-70% of the Zn, As and P mass was retained within the soil. Cu was fully mobilized by DOC. Patterns of breakthrough curves (BTCs) and mass calculations suggest that the behavior of these litter-derived elements in the column is controlled by both adsorption (including competitive) to soils and complexation with DOC.

Poultry litter, Arsenic, Trace elements, Broadkill River, Delmarva Peninsula