Hazards of Pit Manure

September 18, 2012 07:23 AM

Farmers will be looking to save all the money they can this year. One way to save on inputs is to fertilize with manure. But experts advise caution. Iowa State University Extension cites several cases in Iowa last year of manure pit fires and explosions. The danger of pit fires or explosions is highest during pumping and agitation.

Manure in liquid pits decomposes slowly, creating methane and hydrogen sulfide gasses. Each of these gasses has the potential of igniting or even exploding. Pits with a thick foamy residue over the top of the manure are especially dangerous as agitation can cause methane to be rapidly released. When methane comes into contact with fresh air or an ignition source, an explosion can result.

To help producers manage the risks, ISU offers the following:

  • Review your emergency action plan with all workers and have emergency contact numbers available at the site. The publication Emergency Action Plans at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/PM1859.pdf has additional information.

  • Prior to agitation or pumping, turn off electrical power to any non-ventilation equipment such as lights and feed motors, and extinguish any pilot lights or other ignition sources. Fully open all ventilation curtains or ventilation pivot-doors, but leave walk-in doors locked to prevent human entry.

  • Run ventilation fans at maximum speed.

  • Ensure that all people are out of the building and clearly tag all doors noting that the building is unsafe for entry during agitation and pumping. The Iowa Pork Producers Association has door hang tags available to Iowa pork producers and commercial manure applicators. To request tags, please contact the IPPA at (515) 225-7675.

  • If significant foam is present, consider pumping without agitation to reduce the risk of fire or explosion, and monitor solids accumulation to decide if agitation is advised at the next pumping event.

  • Do not agitate manure until manure has been pumped and level is at least two feet below the slats.

  • When agitating the manure keep the jet of pressurized manure below the liquid surface. Don’t let the jet of manure strike walls or columns in the pit.

  • Stop agitation when the manure level does not allow agitation below the liquid surface.

  • Continue maximum ventilation for 30 minutes to an hour after pumping has ended before re-entering the building.

(Click here for ISU's report)

When pumping or agitating pit manure facilities, exercise caution. Fertilizing with manure is great for the soil, easy on the bottom line and, hey, its gotta go somewhere, right? Following some basic safety precautions will go a long way toward avoiding a potentially explosive situation on the farm.


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