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Farmville Future?

CAFOs and Contamination

Stephanie L. Luster-Teasley
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
North Carolina A&T State University
Rebecca L. Ives
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
Michigan State University


Life has changed for the rural residents of Farmville County since the arrival of four concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs); the air has an odor, wildlife has decreased, and illnesses are on the rise. One of the town's residents has become active in collecting water samples in nearby lakes, rivers, and streams and has determined the water has high levels of fecal bacteria. This case study provides a forum to discuss the benefits and concerns associated with the CAFO industry and its waste handling practices. As the story develops, students are assigned the role of county board members who must vote on whether one of the local CAFOs should be allowed to expand operations. To vote responsibly, students must research the CAFO industry and the potential for environmental contamination. An optional lab component teaches students how to analyze water samples for total coliform, E. coli, and Enterococci using EPA-approved methods. The case is particularly suited for an environmental engineering, environmental science, or microbiology course.


  • Learn about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
  • Learn about potential contaminants from CAFOs which enter the environment (air, soil, and water).
  • Understand the environmental impact and effect on the public from agricultural and animal waste as runoff to surface water.
  • Understand the types of microorganisms potentially present from CAFO wastes that can impair surface water and the EPA recommended levels for safe exposure.
  • Learn the membrane filtration technique to measure bacteria levels in natural water samples using recommended methods by the American Water Works Association and EPA.
  • Learn how to use IDEXX as an alternate tool to measure bacteria levels in water samples.


Confined animal feeding operations; CAFO; microorganisms; bacteria; indicator bacteria; total coliform; E coli; Enterococci; waste water; water quality; Environmental Protection Agency; EPA

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division



Type Methods

Interrupted, Laboratory



Subject Headings

Environmental Engineering Environmental Science Microbiology Agriculture Food Science / Technology Public Health Toxicology Natural Hazards Biology (General)

Date Posted


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