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Manure Manager editiorial: July-August 2013

The Creeper


My youngest child is obsessed with video and computer games, as many nine-year-old boys are. Hockey, FIFA soccer, Harry Potter, Mario kart, Sims – he plays them all.

One computer game that he seems to be particularly enamored of at the moment is Minecraft. I was relieved when I learned it had nothing to do with actual explosive mines but was more about building and developing a home, farming and finding precious gems. It sounded productive, wholesome. Then he had to ruin it by describing the monsters in the game that come out at night – the reason you need the shelter in the first place. You have the usual suspects – zombies and skeletons – but there’s one that makes me a bit uncomfortable. It’s called The Creeper.

No, I’m not afraid of pretend computer game monsters. For me, the term Creeper has always meant something else, something invisible and insidious that creeps up on you and catches you unawares. You can’t see it or smell it or hear it or taste it or feel it – it’s just suddenly there.

For me, the term Creeper has always been synonymous with poisonous gases. And, given the recent global spate of incidents involving that creeping manure gas, it seems almost fitting that my son has also been discussing his Creeper.

Back in June, three workers on a farm in the Netherlands died after they fell into an aboveground manure storage container. It’s believed the initial worker was cleaning the almost empty storage tank, wearing appropriate breathing apparatus, when he collapsed. Three other workers rushed to save him. Of the four, only one survived.

A month later, a mother and daughter died in China after they fell into a manure pit. It appears the pair were overcome by the manure gas as they tried to fish out a cellphone that had fallen into the pit. The husband and father of the pair jumped in after them; fortunately, he was saved by a neighbor.

That these incidents CAN happen comes as no surprise to people who work in the livestock and manure management industries – manure gases are dangerous and can kill. What is surprising is that, despite the publicity and educational opportunities that typically follow one of these tragedies, they STILL happen.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), when it comes to confined-space accidents where multiple people die, most of the victims are typically the rescuers, the people trying to help. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, would-be rescuers account for 60 percent of confined-space fatalities.

It wasn’t many years ago I reported on the deaths of five people at one Virginia dairy farm, four of them from the same family – father, mother and two daughters. And not many years later, two people were killed at a New England dairy farm. All were confined-space accidents involving manure gases.

It’s these kinds of incidents I think of when I hear about The Creeper. And it’s these kinds of incidents researchers at Penn State had in mind recently when they developed a new international standard for the proper ventilation of manure storage facilities (see the article on page 26). They are now in the process of developing an online design tool that will allow building professionals to create a ventilation system for any shape of facility – and keep out The Creeper.

Manure gas will be the topic of discussion during a presentation at the 2013 North American Manure Expo, being held Aug. 20 and 21 near Guelph, Ontario, Canada. For more information, visit www.ManureExpo2013.com.