With harvest winding down and manure application underway, it's a good time to remember manure safety, says Rich Gates, professor and Extension specialist at the University of Illinois. "Any liquid/slurry stores, when agitated, will release toxic hydrogen sulfide and methane gasses that can be lethal. Last summer, during agitation of a large manure storage tank in Wisconsin, a young farmer was killed from manure gas, along with 16 cows. This past weekend in mid-October there were three more incidents, with at least 61 cattle reported to have been killed in four incidents in the tri-state area.”
It is important to remember the key safety rules when agitating and emptying manure stores. These rules include taking steps to promote ventilation, removing workers and if possible animals, from buildings or nearby downwind structures, starting the agitation slowly, and watching for any harmful effects. Never enter an enclosed manure store without appropriate precautions, and be mindful that you can be overcome with a single breath if concentrations are high.
Facts surrounding the most recent incidents are sketchy, but custom applicators reported high to dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide on the ground near tankers and in the cab of tractors during filling, according to a news release from Kevin Erb, University of Wisconsin Extension.
“Levels of hydrogen sulfide over 10 parts per million (ppm) should be considered dangerous, with most personal alarms set at 10 to 20 ppm,” says University of Illinois Extension educator Jay Solomon. “Levels of 1-10 ppm cause irritation, 10-50 ppm cause more serious problems with eyes and respiratory tract, and above 50 ppm can be lethal quickly.” He also noted that this latest set of mortalities occurred in naturally ventilated deep-pit beef operations.
"Don't forget the importance of ensuring that new or inexperienced workers are also trained in safety," Gates concludes.