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Growing up on a poultry farm in rural Arkansas, 15-year-old Hunter learned early on that clean water was a precious resource. He saw first-hand that poultry houses use large amounts of water that become contaminated with chicken litter, and he wondered if there was a way to filter this water for reuse.
Poultry farms tend to have three to five chicken houses, each with about 28,000 chickens. Using commercial filters to clean the water discharged from the poultry houses is an expensive proposition, so Hunter decided to investigate ways of filtering the water using a cheaper material—different types of local soil.
To start, he collected five kinds of soil: sand, red clay, ash, gravel, and loam, drying each sample and testing for pH, nitrate, and phosphate levels. Hunter then filtered tap water through the soils to remove nitrates and phosphates from the samples.
His second step was to collect water samples. Hunter made a mixture of clean water and chicken litter, letting it sit for two weeks before testing its pH, nitrate, and phosphate levels. He then filtered the contaminated water through the five different soils.
Although his hypothesis had been that sand would be the best filter, his experiments showed that loam removed contaminants better than any other type of soil. Hunter’s investigation led to a winning essay in the 2010 Young Naturalist Awards competition. Moreover, he hopes that his project can be used by farmers to construct poultry houses that filter waste water.