5 airborne hazards to beware of on the farm

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Ohio farm.

Many airborne hazards occur on farms. In Part 1, learn more about these common gases, what symptoms to look for, and how to prevent dangerous side effects or death.

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1Ammonia
High concentrations of ammonia can be found in animal confinement buildings due to improper ventilation. It is also present when applying gaseous fertilizers (anhydrous) to fields. Ammonia is colorless and has a sharp pungent odor. It can cause eye, mouth, nose, skin and respiratory tract irritation as well as suffocation in high concentrations.

Provide adequate ventilation in barns, run fans 10-15 minutes before entering manure pits and wear a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) where high concentrations exist. When applying fertilizers or connecting product hoses, wear rubber gloves, apron and boots.

2Carbon Dioxide
A colorless, odorless gas that can be found in animal confinement buildings and grain bins, as well as from engine exhaust in closed spaces. It is absorbed through inhalation, causing facial flushing, drowsiness, unconsciousness and sometimes death.

Keep animal barns and buildings with equipment well ventilated, and run fans 10-15 minutes before entering manure pit.

3Hydrogen Sulfide
Can occur in animal confinement buildings, has a rotten egg smell and is absorbed through inhalation. After initial breaths, the gas paralyzes olfactory nerves so odor cannot be detected. Causes eye and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness, nausea, unconsciousness or death. Provide adequate ventilation and run fans 10-15 minutes before entering manure pits.

4Methane
Occurs in manure pits, is odorless and flammable, and is absorbed through inhalation. Can cause asphyxiation and explosion hazards. Provide adequate ventilation, ban smoking and other ignition sources. If oxygen becomes less than 19.5 percent by volume, use SCBA.

5Nitrogen Oxide
Greatest danger occurs in silos 48 hours after filling and can exist up to 10 days after filling. It has a yellowish-brown color and bleach-like smell; absorbed through inhalation. Causes initial irritation of eyes and mucous membranes, shortness of breath, fever, and death.

Stay away from silos for the first 48 hours after filling. After 48 hours, run blower for 20 minutes before entry, open chute doors down to level of silage and wear SCBA.

Sources: Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Agricultural airborne hazards.

Next week: Airborne hazards part two.

(Farm and Dairy is featuring a series of “101” columns throughout the year to help young and beginning farmers master farm living. From finances to management to machinery repair and animal care, farmers do it all.)

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