Be Careful Agitating, Pumping Pits

Freak accidents last fall have experts concerned.

Published on: Mar 30, 2010

If you're a livestock producer and you haven't pumped pits recently, you likely will soon now that field and soil conditions are starting to settle down after winter. Ted Funk, an ag engineer in Extension at the University of Illinois, wants you to be extra cautious as you begin to agitate and pump pits this spring.

For some yet unknown reason, incidences of flash fires as producers began to agitate and pump pits were reported last fall. The fires seem linked to foaming on top of the manure in the pit. Foam as thick as five feet was reported. Tiny gas bubbles in the foam can ignite and be quite combustible if set off by some sort of spark.

This isn't the first time unexplained flash fires in pits have been reported. Earlier last decade, a Carroll County, Ind., hog producer was badly burned when a flash fire ignited in his pit in late falll. He was checking it to see how full it was, with the intention of having it pumped by a custom applicator in a day or two. Something set off the blaze.

His hands were badly burned. It took months of rehabilitation therapy and literally dozens of trips to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis for him to regain and maintain reasonable utility in his hands. Without the therapy, he told Indiana Prairie Farmer at the time that he suspects his hands would have been useless. Wishard Hospital is known as one of the leading regional burn treatment and burn therapy centers in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, Funk is cautioning producers in any livestock operation to be extra cautious this spring. Tips include making sure everyone is out of the building, start the agitation process slowly, disconnect all electrical devices except ventilation fans, and extinguish any pilot lights that might be lit in the facility.

During pumping, doors to buildings involved should be tagged so that other employees know not to enter. After pumping is finished, run ventilation fans on maximum speed for 30 minutes before reentering the building. Make it a rule that no one enters a building with a pit where manure is being agitated or pumped during the actual agitation and pumping.

Also, don't allow the jet of pressurized manure to strike walls or columns in the pit. Keep it below the liquid surface. And don't attempt to enter the pit itself under any circumstances. Several deadly gases are stirred up during agitation and pumping, and are present at drastically higher concentrations during the process.