Pig Poop redux

I have done a wee bit of research and found a bit of poop on pig opp homicide. It appears that the real risk with pig poop is in breathing the vapors which are very toxic in confined spaces I found references to death among workers cleaning poop storage tanks in Maryland and Saskatchewan. Apparently the air in those things is full of hydrogen sulfide which is, I believe, referred to as sour gas in the Oil industry.

This leads to another point, I have seen stories on the news about pig farm generated electricity where the methane etc. is burned to generate electricity. Is this a viable option for the hog industry? a byproduct of a byproduct? I understand there is a saying at hog processing plants that “the only thing wasted is the squeal”. This could take that ethic to another level.


Always post a link to the column you are commenting on:

Does pig excrement kill?

There are some dairy farms doing that. I don’t think it’s economically viable yet without government subsidies, but they produce power with the methane and sell it to power companies. I think in most of the manure pit deaths they die from lack of oxygen and not from poisonous fumes.

“Dung Lung” can be fatal. When I heard about it in med school, the speaker said that someone affected basically passes out almost instantly, falling into the dung pit (enclosed dung pit, I believe), aspirates liquid manure, and dies.


Yeah, but is that the pigs, or from some heavy metal band that rented out the place?

Musically, it can be very difficult to untrained ears to be able to tell the difference.

Heh – “a wee bit of research” – heehee. I like that.

Here in Iowa, ground zero for the hog confinement industry, farmers, and many hogs, can die if a ventilation system fails. One sees the reports of such deaths from time to time in local newspapers. From a NY Times report (by Peter Kilborn from 1991)
“At the extreme, 19 American farmers died instantly in the 1980’s from inhaling hydrogen sulfide produced by the decomposing hog waste, said Dr. Kelly J. Donham, a professor of agricultural medicine at the University of Iowa. The gas, he said, is as lethal as the hydrogen cyanide that some states use to execute criminals.”

That’s just a simple google search. Such deaths might be less common in the twenty years since but a farmer can be quickly overcome and die inside of a confinement barn if the ventilation fails. (A rule of thumb is that one pig produces as much waste as four humans. Thus a 10,000 hog confinement operation which stores the waste in a lagoon, waiting for it to break down, is like a city of 40,000 without a water treatment plant. In the old days, when most farmers had at least a few hogs, well, farms smelled like farms and farmers said that pig manure smelled like money. Now, huge operations confine large numbers of hogs in small areas, well beyond the capacity of the farm to use the manure as fertilizer, and the results can be toxic)

Ok I read all these posts and I still don’t get it. The pig poop is stored in large containers and/or some sort of pond. THEN what? Left to dry out for fertilizer? Burnt for methane? or just more containers built? Dumped into nearest rivers? Where does it go??

There was a story on NPR a while ago (this year, I’m pretty sure) about someone collecting beef or pig waste, covering it with plastic, and capturing the methane. The gas is ‘cleaned’ (?) and then sold to… someone. The gas is cheaper than other methane, the seller makes a profit, and methane is used instead of just vented into the atmosphere. I don’t recall them saying anything about subsidies, but I was unable to find the story to verify.

The problem for CAFOs (confinement feeding operations) is that they generally have far more waste than they can use as fertilizer. In the old days, farmers would just spread pig manure out on the fields; CAFOs don’t have enough fields to do that. So that the manure gets stored in lagoons to break down anaerobically but without further treatment, for cost reasons. Unfortunately, lagoons sometimes leak, or overflow, or get flooded, which can lead to massive fish kills when the untreated manure slurry makes its way into rivers.

It’s comparable to not requiring water and sewer treatment in rural areas because natural processes can break down human waste in septic systems, but once the area has enough people, you need to active water treatment systems to make sure that people have clean water. Unfortunately, active water treatment systems cost money; CAFO’s do not want to spend money on such systems and want to keep it as simple as possible: giant, foul-smelling lagoons.


read that to see how far behind the curve this discussion really is. and, though I heard the interview not so long ago, I can’t find the reference to some chemicals now being made from pig waste that are worth thousands of dollars an ounce.

My mom grew up in farmland: Bonfield, IL. Apparently one of the pig farms nearby had a vat full of the excrement. While walking along the rim one day, one of the workers breathed in the ammonia (or something) that got to his lungs and he passed out, falling into the vat, where he sank and died, leaving only his hat floating on the surface. Perhaps there’s some searching left to do on the matter.

I read the paper, and it’s talking about stalks, straw, and sugarcane bagasse – not poop.

There’s no question that pig poop isn’t a rich organic fertilizer, and can be a valuable commodity on a farm. The problem is that of quantity. The pigs on a large farm can produce as much waste as a small city. Imagine Jefferson City, Missouri without a sewage system, and you get the idea.

By the way, if there’s a chemical that sells for thousands dollars an ounce made from pig waste, it means that very little of that chemical can be produced from the vast amount produced, or the procedure to produce this chemical is extremely expensive. If it was cheap to produce this chemical, competition between manufacturers and pig farmers would produce a lot more supply, bringing the price down.

As gazwart points out, the problem is quantity. 50 years ago, lots of farmers had a few hogs and so hogs were much more widely distributed. It was easier for most farmers to use hog manure as fertilizer without storing a lot, and so the danger of manure runoff into waterways was far less.

The modern problem is that CAFO’s generate huge amounts of manure, mixed with water to make a slurry and then stored in lagoons, and it is those large amounts of hog manure that pose environmental problems.

Modern CAFO’s would love to find a profitable use for all this manure, but even if they do, the need to collect and store all that slurry from confinement buildings is an environmental risk. For example, if a CAFO can produce methane or other bio-gas for energy production and make money from that it will - but such production requires large amounts of manure and thus you still have the risk from spills, the stench, and the danger inside buildings if ventilation systems fail

So no, finding another market for hog manure won’t solve the problem

Several folks have hit parts of the answer without getting it all together in one place.

Manure lagoons are built to have as much extra space as feasible, to allow for rain, etc.

Manure produces methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases, which are heavier than air.

If you fall in, or even climb down to retrieve the tool you dropped on the edge, you are in an oxygen poor atmosphere, and pass out. Surprisingly quickly. :eek:

You then continue suffocating until dead, perhaps taking along others, who come in to try to pull you out. :smack:

Rescue squads carry Scott Air-paks for a REASON. Hydrogen sulfide might help you through death’s door, but is not necessary at all.

Informative, thank you.