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Mike Bryant
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Increase in Composting Means More Safety

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Not everything is an exact science and methods of composting are one of them. Job related deaths have occurred regardless of the procedures set in place for safety. There were three workers who died from inhaling toxic fumes at a Vancouver plant in Canada, which eventually went bankrupt from lawsuits and closed down. On October 12, 2011 two men who worked for a compost company in California died from inhaling lethal levels of hydrogen sulfide.

Hydrogen sulfide is an extremely hazardous gas that is rapidly absorbed by the lungs. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air and may travel along the ground. It is a colorless gas and has an egg like smell. It is found in poorly-ventilated areas such as manholes and sewer lines; the accident happened while cleaning an 8’ drainage tunnel. Two brothers were on the job, one of them took a fatal breath of the gas. The other worker went after his brother and went into the tunnel to try and rescue him.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) warns NEVER attempt a rescue in an area that may contain hydrogen sulfide without using appropriate respiratory protection and without being trained to perform such a rescue.

The executive director of the US Composting Council in Ronkonkoma, New York feels this was an isolated incident, and has also stated that though tragic, all manufacturing industries experience unfortunate and sometimes fatal incidents. Continuing to enforce safety procedures, implement practice drills, and general education on hazardous materials may prevent such tragedies in the future.

There are also some environmental concerns regarding composting. State and local authorities are looking at ways to make composting procedures more environmentally friendly. Though some techniques are higher in cost, they are looking at options for the future. These technologies are possible alternatives. Some of these methods are anaerobic digestion. This approach confines compost material in oxygen-free containers where the bacteria can break it down and create energy. Another possibility is aerating compost rows. This would reduce air and water emissions by covering the materials with a membrane that will also reduce odors and rain runoff.

The manner in which compost companies do business is changing. Future tactics will be replacing the old methods, and tighter ruling is set in place for issuing permits to compost facilities. There are great benefits to making these changes. The safety of the workers should increase and the environmental concerns should reduce.