Update info on Manure Basin Fatality in Portage County

Photo linked to source URL - Bob Biadasz,
father of Michael who died on Aug 15, 2016
Last week, a very sad farm-related fatality occurred in Portage County, Wisconsin involving manure gases emanating from an open air storage basin, early in the morning during agitation. 

The incident along with a detailed video telling the story is linked here in the Stevens Point newspaper.

I have provided some additional comments and facts linked to the online story.  These are below:

Comments to Chris Mueller, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin:
In my professional role as an agricultural safety and health specialist, I've investigated several dozen manure-related fatalities and close calls (either through on-site investigations, factual reports, case studies, etc.). I want to provide caution on this incident and it being characterized as having been caused by "methane fumes." This case is so sad for Michael and his family, and my heart goes out to them.

Manure in storage generates many gases. Methane is one. The other three known and well-documented are hydrogen sulfide, ammonia (vapor), and carbon dioxide. Among these, methane is lighter than air and can cause death by asphyxiating a person (so that they do not have enough oxygen to sustain life). Carbon dioxide acts similarly, but is heavier than air. The way these gases move around depends on the differences between the air temperature and the temperature of the gas that was released from this manure basin. So, we may never know the precise and exact cause(s). But, in the majority of cases, hydrogen sulfide gas is usually the gas of greatest relative concern. It is the most toxic at lower levels. Hydrogen sulfide gives manure its strong rotten egg odor. At concentrations from 800 to 1000 parts per million (ppm), hydrogen sulfide causes rapid unconsciousness, cessation of respiration and death. At 1000 ppm or greater, one breath can cause a person to stop breathing completely. It's important that this case be fully understood. There likely were several factors that caused Michael's death. Still air, and other weather factors might have played a role. While this specific case seems unusual, many hundreds of manure-related incidents have happened in the Midwest over the last 20 years. The vast majority of these happen in a much more enclosed area or confined space like a pit or other enclosed area. In Extension, we are working to better understand this case. The type of monitor most often recommended when working around stored manure is a multi-gas monitor that has sensors for oxygen, hydrogen sulfide, and methane or other potentially explosive gases. See: http://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/gpcah/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Manure-Pit-Gas-Selection_Use-7_31_15.pdf But, in this case, it is not yet clear HOW Michael would have actually used a monitor in this work setting or the practices that would prevent similar incidents in the future. But, we will provide additional guidance through Extension and our county agents and educators in the coming weeks. Our condolences go to Michael's family, friends, and the community.


ReneeA said...

It is heartbreaking to learn of farmer fatality from manure gas. I thank you for bringing attention to these hazards faced by livestock producers. To answer your question in the piece, it is rare but has happened that manure gases generate lethal concentrations outside. A personal monitor, simply clipped to the shirt or jacket, would alarm at concentrations that are below fatally high concentrations, alerting someone to leave the area before concentrations become deadly. Most often, hydrogen sulfide alarms come pre-set from the manufacturer at 10 and 20 ppm, well below lethal concentrations. At these alarm levels, it is best to react by assuming the concentrations are increasing and to leave to a place where the alarm shuts off, indicating safe levels in this area. After conditions change (pumping stops, winds change, etc.) reentry into the area with the monitor will identify if it is safe to reenter.
Renee Anthony, Great Plans Center for Agricultural Health

John M. Shutske said...

ReneeA - Thanks for the comments. We recently did a webinar in which we talked of the possibility of using the much less expensive, single gas, H2S monitor. We now know via the coroner's reports that this WAS hydrogen sulfide. The webinar included a discussion on how one might use a single gas monitor including practical recommendations that we adapted from the NIOSH-funded ag safety center in Iowa. Thank you.