On July 25, two Iowa repairmen lost their lives after becoming engulfed by the noxious fumes of a manure pit at a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). The pair—a father and son named Gene and Austin Opheim—were working at the hog farm when a piece of equipment fell into the manure pit below the facility. Austin went to retrieve the item and when Gene saw his son pass out, he went in after him, only to succumb to the toxic fumes himself. Both were later pronounced dead. On factory farms, hogs are housed in crowded indoor facilities with slats through which manure drops into a pit, where waste then emits hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide, amongst other deadly gases. In Midwestern states, manure foaming over the cesspools beneath CAFOs is a condition that often suffocates hogs and leads to explosions due to the highly flammable gases (namely methane and hydrogen sulfide) produced in the decomposition of manure. Daniel Anderson, professor at the University of Iowa said that “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,” which “can cause unconsciousness and untimely death.” The two men weren’t the first to die this way—father and son Ram and Jeremy Sibel also met their demise in a manure pit at a hog farm in Wisconsin on July 7.
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