Factory farms have been known to pollute the water and air surrounding them. Recently, an article written about father, Gene Opheim and son, Austin Opheim, proves that these are not the only ways in which factory farms are harmful and dangerous.
A father and his son who were so close that they were “like glue” were killed Saturday by noxious fumes from a northwest Iowa hog manure pit — the second father and son in the Midwest to die of poisonous manure pit gases this month.
Gene Opheim, 58, and his son, Austin Opheim, 32, both of Cylinder, Iowa, were rescued from the pit after the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office received a report of two men submerged at 1:50 p.m. Saturday. Both were pronounced dead at a hospital in Emmetsburg.
The two men were repairing a pump at a hog confinement when a piece of equipment they were using fell into the manure pit. Austin Opheim went into the pit first to retrieve the equipment, and his father followed him after realizing his son had been overcome by gases.
This isn’t the only case. A father and son were killed at a Wisconsin farm on the 7th of July as they were attempting to retrieve a broken wheel from a hog manure pit. In 2007, four family members and a hired farm hand were killed in Virginia by gases at a dairy farm while trying to save one another.
”It takes just a few seconds for routine maintenance work in a pig barn to turn deadly,” said Daniel Andersen, a water quality and manure management professor at Iowa State University. ”It’s hydrogen sulfide that can be the deadliest of the gases created when manure decomposes — along with methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide,” Andersen said.
Large ventilation fans and curtains are used to help ensure the air is safe for people and animals in a pig barn. But farmers can run into trouble when doing maintenance work below the slats — or in pump pit areas, where the manure is accessed to fertilize farm fields.
“When you’re working in the animal environment, you’re relatively safe,” Andersen said. “But whenever you’re working below the slats — or where manure is being disturbed — that can be highly dangerous. “Typically, we try to avoid going into the manure pits at all cost for this very reasons,” he said.
Something as simple as dropping equipment in the manure can send bubbles of hydrogen sulfide into the air. It’s especially a problem when people are in confined spaces.
“When something breaks the surface of the manure or if the person is in the manure, moving around, that causes more hydrogen sulfide to come out of the manure,” Andersen said. “That can cause unconsciousness and untimely death.”