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Manure pits nothing to laugh at (Editorial)

by | Jun 24, 2022

A man somehow wandered into a manure pit in Washington County, Md., on April 13, trapping himself in the early morning.
A farmer who owned the pit discovered the man after sunrise, and first responders made quick business of rescuing him. The incident was quickly noticed on social media where nearby residents — presumably those with no understanding of the man’s peril — saw the incident as an opportunity for scatalogical quips and jokes. Thankfully, the man, who was submerged up to his armpits, survived, but to livestock farmers, the incident wasn’t nearly as humorous and served as a useful reminder of the danger of manure pits.
The man was simply lucky to be alive.
Manure pit accidents in warm summer weather can very easily be fatal, and this man also happened to fall into a tank on a spring night when the temperature had dropped to the 50s. A wet body can become hypothermic in 55-degree weather, to say nothing of the most dangerous threat in a manure pit: noxious gasses that have suffocated many people in the same tragic predicament.
We were immediately reminded of the three Ohio brothers — Gary, Todd and Brad Wuebker — who died after losing consciousness while trying to fix a manure pump last August. Briefly, their deaths were national news. The cause: asphyxiation.
As manure decomposes, it releases lethal quantities of gasses, including methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. Multiple people can succumb to a manure pit while trying to save someone else.
A simple Google search reveals that manure deaths are not rare. Basic study reveals even more. Manure-generated gas killed 91 people nationwide and severely injured 21 others from 1974 to 2004, according to a recent Perdue University study. More than a third of those deaths occurred during pit repairs or maintenance, and nearly a quarter of them were the product of rescue attempts.
Jokes from those outside of agriculture are forgivable. We can assume they wouldn’t have been made had things gone the other way in the April 13 incident.
But let’s hope that every time something like this occurs, the glare of media attention makes such preventable death less likely in the future. Animal agriculture — and agriculture in general — is already hard enough.

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