Manure pit foaming presents serious safety concerns

“Spontaneous foaming in swine manure pits is an ongoing challenge and serious potential danger for pork producers,” says Richard Gates, professor and Extension specialist in agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois. Gates is part of a three-year, $1 million manure pit foam research project funded by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Illinois Extension, Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota are collaborating to research causes and solutions to manure foam.

“This research shows some curious correlations that we are still investigating,” Gates says, “and we believe that raising awareness of the dangers of foaming is essential to the safety of producers, their employees and their animals.”

Some foaming may be typical in manure storage, but the foam that has recently been causing problems is a persistent and fast-growing substance that has a mucus-like texture. Methane gas is trapped in the bubbles and creates the potential for fires and explosions, especially when the foam bubbles are rapidly destroyed in the presence of a spark source, such as during agitation and pumping.

“A flash fire in May in a hog barn in southwestern Minnesota resulted in two deaths,” Gates says, “and served as a harsh reminder of how dangerous manure pits can be.”

Gates says producers are urged to use caution and to take the necessary steps to minimize the risk of dangerous gas levels and explosion that can occur during soaking or power washing, manure agitation and pumping, welding or grinding, or any activity that creates a spark.

“If manure is being pumped,” he says, “we strongly advise that no one should be in the building. Adequate ventilation should be provided, even after animals have been removed. Any potential ignition sources, such as pilot lights, must be turned off, and smoking should be prohibited.”

Hydrogen sulfide can also reach dangerous levels when manure is disturbed. “Never enter a manure pit without specialized training and appropriate breathing apparatus and monitoring equipment,” he says.

A free decal that warns workers and lists appropriate precautions about manure foaming, and hang tags for doors knobs to be used as an additional reminder during manure pump-out are all available through the Illinois Pork Producers Association.

“This is a great collaborative effort to address a very serious safety concern for pork producers,” says Curt Zehr, a pork producer from Washington, Ill., and current president of the IPPA. “Illinois Pork is providing these educational materials to help ensure the safety of producers and employees during the fall when many of the manure pits are pumped out. I would encourage all pork producers to take advantage of accessing these free materials compliments of the Pork Checkoff and utilizing them on their farms.” 

Contact the Illinois Pork Producers Association at 217-529-3100 or visit www.ilpork.com to obtain these materials or for more information.

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