Do H2S monitors belong on the swine farm?: Part two

What do you do if someone is overcome by H2S on your farm?

In part one of this Michigan State Universty Extension series we covered the harms of H2S to humans and how detection of it can be very important to you and your farm.

Non-Human toxicity:

Similar to stories of coal miners, the pig might be the unsuspecting canary. It is not unusual for producers and veterinarians to find one or a few dead pigs housed in pens that have “dead air” or limited air exchange during or immediately after manure transfer.

It is known that H2S is sometimes released during manure agitation. While the number of cases submitted to Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (ISUVDL) due to H2S toxicity is relatively few, the true incidence of H2S intoxication is likely to be underreported. Field observations by Drs. Steve Ensley, Wilson Rumbeiha and Kent Schwartz at ISUVDL suggest that livestock death typically occurs the same day as manure agitation in barns with deep pits.

Warning signs are inconsistently present but may include mucosal, corneal, conjunctival, and/or respiratory tract irritation. ISUVDL is currently working on diagnostic biomarkers in serum and urine of affected pigs.

Rescue and recovery:

If overcome by H2S, it is important to note that a rescuer has only about six minutes to apply CPR.  The (victim or the rescuer) will require a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) -like firefighters wear - to enter the space and, most likely, recover the exposed individual.  The majority of hydrogen sulfide poisonings (approximately 86 percent) occur in confined spaces and many poisonings are the direct result of others trying to help co-workers in need. Use of H2S monitors and training help avoid these tragic outcomes.

MSU Extension- Recommendations for farmers during manure transfer.

  1. The hazards of working in and around manure pits should be communicated to farmers
  2. Ventilation rates should be increased before, during and after agitation
  3. Workers should leave a confinement building during agitation of manure
  4. Wear an H2S monitor
  5. When pulling pit plugs increase the ventilation rate for 10 minutes prior to pulling pits.
  6. Never allow slurry to accumulate less than six inches from the bottom of the flooring.
  7. As part of the emergency plan, have proper respiratory protection and a rescue capability in place before entering a manure pit.


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