Farmer deaths in hog manure pits now total four this month in the Midwest. In two incidents, a father and son died from exposure to fumes.
In the more recent case, Gene Opheim, 58, and his son, Austin Opheim, 32, of Cylinder, IA, died after being exposed to fumes from a hog manure pit.
Reports say the two farmers were repairing a pump at a hog confinement when a piece of equipment they were using fell into the manure pit.
Austin went into the pit first to retrieve the equipment. After realizing his son had been overcome by gases, Gene also went into the pit.
Gene was carrying Austin on his back and got almost to the top of the pit when he was also overcome, according to reports.
Hydrogen sulfide is the deadliest gas produced in manure pits. The pits also release methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide.
A water quality and manure management professor at Iowa State University, Daniel Andersen, told KSDK-TV that it takes just a few seconds for a routine repair job to turn deadly when working around the pits.
Andersen says when something is dropped into a pit or a person is moving around in the pit, the manure gets stirred up and more hydrogen sulfide bubbles to the surface, which can lead to unconsciousness and death.
“I would prefer [farmers] use some sort of breathing apparatus,” Andersen said.
Earlier this month, a father and son were killed at a Wisconsin farm while trying to retrieve something dropped into a hog manure pit.