In livestock production, not all gas monitors are equal

Study finds that routine care of low-cost hydrogen sulfide monitors is needed to save lives.

November 22, 2017

2 Min Read
In livestock production, not all gas monitors are equal

Last fall, livestock producers in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin were alerted to the dangers of hydrogen sulfide gas following a series of cattle fatality incidents during manure handling activities, according to an announcement from the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health (GPCAH) at the University of Iowa.

Hydrogen sulfide is an important manure pit gas and is released during agitation and manure pumping. Many livestock workers are familiar with the its “rotten egg” odor.

Some producers are starting to wear low-cost direct reading gas monitors to provide warning alarms when hydrogen sulfide gases are released and reach levels dangerous to life and health, the center said. Hydrogen sulfide monitors are available from many manufacturers and are recommended for use during manure handling operations. Leaving the area when a gas monitor alarm goes off can save lives.

GPCAH pointed out that researchers at the University of Iowa compared the performance of four easy-to-use, low-cost hydrogen sulfide monitors and published the results in an article in the Journal of Agricultural Safety & Health. Although each gas monitor had different features, all of the monitors had a low and high alarm to alert the user of dangerous hydrogen sulfide levels. In addition, all monitors were advertised as good for at least two years in the field.

The researchers tested each monitor’s performance over time, simulating what they might be exposed to over one year of use in a livestock environment.

Performance of monitors declined over time. All of these monitors showed signs of reduced performance as the study progressed. “When we exposed these monitors hydrogen sulfide at levels that would be seen on the farm, the time it took for the monitor to signal an alarm increased,” GPCAH director Dr. Renée Anthony said. “This would be a problem if someone wearing the monitor was not warned of hazardous concentrations quickly.”

Not all manufacturers recommend performing bump tests on gas monitors. However, the results of this study recommend that it should be done. The “bump test” simply requires delivering a known concentration of gas to the monitor and then checking: Does the alarm go off? Does it alarm quickly (within 15 seconds)? If the monitor displays a gas level, does it match the one on your gas bottle?

“Bump testing is important for workers who plan to perform high-risk activities like agitating or pumping manure and pressure washing,” Anthony said. “If your monitor doesn’t display the gas level, it is the only way to know if the sensor still able to detect hydrogen sulfide.”

Information on how to perform a bump test is available here. Producers should plan ahead and test their monitors before using them in potentially hazardous situations.

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