"The danger associated with methane fumes is widely underestimated."

Farmers’ deaths provide impetus for manure pit safety study  That’s what Lancaster County, Penn., Coroner Stephen Diamantoni reported following the death of a 35-year-old Lancaster County dairy farmer last month. The farmer, identified as David Stoltzfus, fell into a manure pit on his dairy while trying to unclog a pump, according to Lancaster (Penn.) Online.

Deputy Coroner Eric Bieber pronounced Stoltzfus dead at the scene. The coroner concluded that Stoltzfus died accidentally from asphyxia - deprivation of oxygen.  Read more here.

Last May, a farmer and his two sons were killed while pumping manure from a manure pond at a dairy near Kennedyville, Md.  Click here for more.

Lancaster (Penn.) Online also reports that now a team of researchers are armed with a grant to study the risks posed by gases produced by these manure pits, including methane and hydrogen sulfide.  

Researchers will not only track gas levels on 15 farms across Pennsylvania but will also demonstrate how farmers can use gas monitors to protect themselves during day-to-day operations. They will also study the impact of a new manure addictive made by Homestead Nutrition that may help reduce hydrogen sulfide emissions.

They'll also investigate whether the use of gypsum as bedding is adding to the threat posed by hydrogen sulfide.

Robert Meinen, a senior extension associate in the Penn State Dairy and Animal Science Department, says that adoption of detection devices by manure handlers has not kept pace with their awareness of manure gas danger.

"There's certainly some good lessons for us to learn here," he said.

The study is funded by the USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Matching partners include Pennsylvania State University, the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission, USA Gypsum and Industrial Scientific Corp., a gas-detection equipment maker.

Click here to read, “Lethal manure pits: How a Lititz farm could help prevent future tragedies.”