Manure pit foam presents serious safety concerns: Producers offered free safety decals


URBANA, Ill. — Spontaneous foaming in swine manure pits is an ongoing challenge and serious potential danger for pork producers.


That’s why Richard Gates, Extension specialist in agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois, and others are part of a three-year, $1 million project to research the causes and solutions to manure foam.


The effort is funded by the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Illinois Extension, Iowa State University, and the University of Minnesota.


“This research shows some curious correlations that we are still investigating,” said Gates, “and we believe that raising awareness of the dangers of foaming is essential to the safety of producers, their employees, and their animals.”


Dangerous foam

Some foaming may be typical in manure storages, but the foam that has recently been causing problems is a persistent and fast-growing substance that has a mucus-like texture.


Methane gas is trapped in the bubbles and creates the potential for fires and explosions, especially when the foam bubbles are rapidly destroyed in the presence of a spark source, such as during agitation and pumping.


“A flash fire in May in a hog barn in southwestern Minnesota resulted in two deaths,” said Gates, “and served as a harsh reminder of how dangerous manure pits can be.”


Use caution

Gates said producers are urged to use caution and to take the necessary steps to minimize the risk of dangerous gas levels and explosion that can occur during soaking or power washing, manure agitation and pumping, welding or grinding, or any activity that creates a spark.


“If manure is being pumped,” he said, “we strongly advise that no one should be in the building.”


Adequate ventilation should be provided, even after animals have been removed, he said and any potential ignition sources, such as pilot lights, must be turned off, and smoking should be prohibited.


Hydrogen sulfide can also reach dangerous levels when manure is disturbed.


“Never enter a manure pit without specialized training and appropriate breathing apparatus and monitoring equipment,” he said.


Free decal

A free decal that warns workers and lists appropriate precautions about manure foaming, and hang tags for door knobs to be used as an additional reminder during manure pump-out are all available through the Illinois Pork Producers Association.
Contact the Illinois Pork Producers Association at 217-529-3100 or visit to obtain these materials or for more information.

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