Tom Philpott reports on a new job safety hazard developing in agriculture. The enormous manure piles on today’s gargantuan hog farms are gurgling up explosive foam.
This never really happened before 2009, but it is an increasingly common occurrence on industrial-scale hog farms.
The problem is menacing: As manure breaks down, it emits toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide and flammable ones like methane, and trapping these noxious fumes under a layer of foam can lead to sudden, disastrous releases and even explosions. According to a 2012 report from the University of Minnesota, by September 2011, the foam had “caused about a half-dozen explosions in the upper Midwest…one explosion destroyed a barn on a farm in northern Iowa, killing 1,500 pigs and severely burning the worker involved.”
This is highly understudied and of course nothing will stop the growth of ever larger and more dangerous agricultural concerns. However, it does seem that dumping a bunch of antibiotics into the manure pits may solve the problem. And I’m sure there will be no unintended consequences from that action.