RESEARCHERS in Pennsylvania State University's College of Agricultural Sciences have published a new international standard to vent confined animal manure storage facilities used at large livestock operations.
Manure storage poses a significant hazard to agricultural workers due primarily to the danger of toxic gas buildup. Exact statistics are difficult to determine, but researchers estimate that about 10 people die each year in North American animal manure pits.
With increased focus on preventing surface water contamination, the number of such manure storage facilities on farms is steadily growing, the Penn State announcement said.
"The reason we got involved in this is not because hundreds of people are dying each year but, rather, the tragic scenario of multiple deaths per incident," explained Harvey Manbeck, distinguished professor emeritus of agricultural engineering at Penn State.
Manbeck and Dennis Murphy, distinguished professor of agricultural safety and health, co-led the eight-year research project, which was funded by the Northeast Center for Agricultural Health.
Accidents typically happen when someone enters a manure pit to retrieve something, make a repair or clean the storage facility. Victims succumb to toxic fumes caused by hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon dioxide and other noxious gases.
The new standard, just adopted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Agricultural & Biological Engineers, which published the standard, ultimately will reduce the risk of entering manure pit facilities.
"This is the first standard specifically for venting these manure storages and specifically to reduce entry risk," Manbeck said.
The new standard, ANSI S607, is available for use with new or existing construction by agricultural building design and construction professionals and regulatory agencies.
Manbeck and Murphy are now in the process of developing an online design tool so building professionals can create a ventilation system for facilities of any shape.
"What is unique is that we are making the design of a ventilation system more user friendly," Manbeck said. "The intrinsic benefit is that if you make it easier, it increases the likelihood that such systems will be designed into new facilities or retrofitted into existing facilities."
The design software should be available online sometime in 2014.