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Danger! A foaming manure pit can kill

By Staff | Nov 30, 2015

MIKE BRUMM gestures as he talks about the importance of safe hog manure management, along with barn construction and ventilation design and practices. Brumm gave the keynote address at the Nov. 18 Passion for Pigs seminar and trade show in Orange City.

ORANGE CITY – Hog manure. Handle it properly or it could explode, killing people and hogs inside the barn.

A fire is likely to follow as well, fed by unstable gases from the foaming manure pit.

Those warnings come from Mike Brumm, the keynote speaker at the Nov. 18 Passion for Pigs’ “Learn to Earn,” a seminar and trade show held at the Orange City Event Center. Orange City Veterinary Clinic co-sponsored the day-long workshop.

Brumm advised pork producers about proper hog house ventilation and manure handling practices. Ignorance of the topic could be fatal, he told the roughly 100 participants.

A foaming manure pit is a sign of improper manure handling, Brumm said.

It brings two dangers: death from the methane released, and/or an explosion from the gases that build up beneath what he calls “the sticky” foam in the manure pit.

That foam can become like a seal, trapping methane beneath it.

“Sticky bubbles can’t break,” he warned. It can be 70 to 80 percent methane and can easily explode, starting a voracious fire.

Brumm recounted a 2011 fire that severely burned a hog farm worker, and another case, in May this year, in which two women died in a nursery barn fine.

The barn had been emptied of pigs, but the manure remained. The women were cleaning the barn.

As if delivering a sermon on safety measures for handling hog manure, Brumm stressed the importance of proper hog barn ventilation – vents that open inward, drawing outside air into the barn (rather than pushing fetid air outward) keep fresh air flowing through the hog barn at all times, even in winter.

Other safety recommendations include:

  • Identify the gas and electrical shut-offs so they are easy to find.
  • Get a local fire chief to do a walk-through to learn the barn’s layout and control panel accesses.
  • Give the fire chief a map of the barn.
  • Also, show any ponds or lakes on a site map so that firefighters can locate a source of water quickly.
  • Be willing to destroy a walkway if that is a critical control point for the fire.

Protocol for a foaming pit:

  • Do not enter the building.
  • Remove ignition sources.
  • Turn gas off outside.
  • If a spark ignites the furnace, turn off the feed lines and turn the fans on maximum, or stage 2.
  • Run the fan for 30 minutes or more before entering the building.
  • Run the fan for 90 more minutes to reduce the gas.
  • With no furnace running, go in to knock down the foam.
  • Remove anything that’s foaming. Remember: “Methane (in the foam) goes “boom!'”

Pit pumping protocols:

  • Never, ever, go into the barn – or allow others inside – while pumping the pit.
  • Use lock-out tags on the doors.
  • Don’t break the surface of the pit waste.
  • Don’t agitate the waste.
  • Avoid splashing.
  • Uncover one pond at a time.
  • Cover others with a tarp.
  • Drain the pond at half speed for the first 2-feet of removal.
  • Deliver fresh air to the pigs at all times.

Brumm told his audience that fewer deaths related to hog confinements are occurring as word of the threat from lethal gases gets out.

He said that huge hydrogen sulfide/methane spikes in the manure pits make bubbles that escape when the sticky crust on the surface of the manure is broken.

He advises farmers and workers not to personally engage with a foamy layer in any hog pit.

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