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Farm works at risk for suffocation on toxic fumes

Two recent deaths related to agriculture in Wisconsin have raised awareness about a very specific danger on farms. The danger is related to the storage of manure, and the risks of exposure to the toxic fumes associated with this process can be illness or even death.

It's a common practice on Wisconsin farms to store animal manure in large pits or tanks. The manure might sit throughout the year or season in these storage areas before it is removed either to make room for more manure or to fertilize fields for new planting in the spring. The autumn months are a time when this manure is removed from storage, because farmers cover the fields in it after they have harvested grains or vegetables growing there.

As the manure sits in these tanks or pits, it undergoes an anaerobic process that generates up to 200 types of gases. Among the fumes generated are methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. In sort, the manure creates a very toxic, thick cloud and is almost devoid of oxygen. The gases are also heavier than air, so they tend to settle in lower areas of tanks or storage areas, which experts say can present risks especially to children.

These fumes have resulted in the deaths of two farmers in the past couple of months. One 29-year-old and one 16-year-old, both working on separate farms, died from suffocation after being exposed to these toxic fumes.

Experts say that farm workers should assume confined spaces are unsafe and use appropriate safety precautions, including air masks. If you are an employee in the agriculture industry and you are exposed to such toxic fumes, any resulting injuries might be covered by workers' compensation. Consider reaching out to an experienced workplace injury lawyer to find out more about your options.

Source: Wisconsin State Farmer, "Fatal fumes lurk in manure storage facilities," Colleen Kottke, Sep. 21, 2016

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