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Gypsum recycled from manufacturing and construction waste has gained popularity as a bedding source for the dairy industry. Its proponents cite affordability, increased moisture absorption, low bacteria growth and soil benefits as reasons for its use.
However, when gypsum—a source of sulfate—finds its way into low-oxygen manure-storage facilities via removal as soiled bedding, this innocuous product can turn into a deadly gas with a few moves of an agitation device, a dangerous threat that researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences believe can be counteracted with an additive.
Production - Gases - Manure - Storages - Health
"In agricultural production, gases near manure storages can pose severe health problems and even be lethal due to toxicity or displacing oxygen," said Eileen Fabian, professor of agricultural engineering. "Tragically, the potential for gypsum bedding to have lethal consequences was not known until it was too late."
Fabian and Michael Hile, a postdoctoral scholar in agricultural and biological engineering, were among a team of investigators—which included experts from Penn State Extension's agricultural safety program, manure haulers, farmers and industry professionals—that collected data linking gypsum-laced manure and toxic hydrogen sulfide gas levels during manure agitation in the wake of several human and cattle deaths in 2012.
Demonstration - Project - Conditions - Dairy - Farms
A follow-up demonstration project documented conditions on 10 dairy farms after these incidents, leading to laboratory investigations of promising manure additives that might reduce dangerous gas levels.
As for what causes the deadly gas, Fabian said that sulfate in manure, when placed in a virtually oxygen-free environment, can convert to hydrogen sulfide. When dairy manure in storage is agitated to mix it prior to its use as a fertilizer, the surface crust that normally forms breaks down, allowing any hydrogen sulfide gas to be released, creating a potentially toxic environment.
Hile - Hydrogen - Sulfide - Gas - Levels
Hile noted that hydrogen sulfide gas "is quite toxic, even at low levels, and can quickly overtake a person or animal, leading...
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