Latest Factory Farm Byproduct: Exploding Foamy Pigdoots

Today, Mother Jones brings us news of yet another exciting environmental development: the enormous lagoons of manure that are the inevitable result of large scale hog farms are home to some wondrous chemical reactions, resulting in a dangerous, highly combustible mess (LUNCH WARNING!):

starting in about 2009, in the pits that capture manure under factory-scale hog farms, a gray, bubbly substance began appearing at the surface of the fecal soup. The problem is menacing: As manure breaks down, it emits toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide and flammable ones like methane, and trapping these noxious fumes under a layer of foam can lead to sudden, disastrous releases and even explosions.

Reporter Tom Philpott ("Philpott"! HA!) probably thought he had a pretty good headline with "Mysterious Poop Foam Causes Explosions on Hog Farms," but we'll go him one better: Exploding Foamy Pigshit. Exploding... Foamy... Pigshit! Say it with us: EXPLODING FOAMY PIGSHIT. We can hardly wait for the next article about Rick Santorum.

Yes, yes, we know we just made fun of Ted Nugent for his immigration plan that sounded like it was written by snickering twelve year olds. Consistency, we do not necessarily speak it here. Also, a warning before you scroll down any further: Icky poo photos below.

Anyhow, this exploding foamy pigshit is actually srs bsns, because of course actual people and property and animals are getting blown the fuck up by this byproduct of industrial pork production:

According to a 2012 report from the University of Minnesota, by September 2011, the foam had "caused about a half-dozen explosions in the upper Midwest…one explosion destroyed a barn on a farm in northern Iowa, killing 1,500 pigs and severely burning the worker involved."

Of course, even the academics can't resist this story: the linked U of Minnesota article is titled "A Pig Bang Theory." God damn it people, we are trying to be serious about an environmental story here, and YOU ARE NOT HELPING.

Philpott (sngk!) notes that the frothy mix "grows to a thickness of up to four feet thick," and reproduces some photos from another U of Minnesota document

showing a vile-looking substance seeping up from between the slats that form the floor of a hog barn. Those slats are designed to allow hog waste to drop down into the below-ground pits; it is alarming to see it bubbling back up in the form of a substance the consistency of beaten egg whites.

And while the MJ article merely links to those photos, we have generously screencapped them for your coffee-break enjoyment:

The really fun part? "And here's the catch: Scientists can't explain the phenomenon."

We bet you'd really like a video of this phenomenon, wouldn't you? Here you go! This is the foaming pigshit video you didn't know you definitely needed to see, even though you may have gotten up this morning and gone through your usual routine perfectly unaware that exploding foamy pigshit would play any part of your day:

David Schmidt: Foaming Manure Pits from Iowa State University Extension on Vimeo.

Philpott notes that he first wrote about this problem a year ago, but hadn't seen anything about it in the agriculture trade press, which leads him to wonder:

Has the mysterious foam subsided -- or congealed into yet another fact of factory farming that isn't even notable anymore, like, you know, raising hundreds of pigs over pits that concentrate their waste, or dosing them them daily with low levels of antibiotics, leading to rampant antibiotic-resistant bacteria?

So really, what we have here is an exploding foamy pigshit UPDATE, then. His investigation found that it's still a problem -- about a quarter of hog farms report experiencing shitfoam -- and that U of Minnesota agriculture professor Larry Jacobson thinks the problem may be exacerbated by "the practice of feeding hogs distillers grains, the mush leftover from the corn ethanol process." Yay, one more spinoff of ethanol subsidies!

Happily, at least a possible solution to the shitstorm seems to have been found:

Dump a bit of monensin, an antibiotic widely used to make cows grow faster, directly into the foam-ridden pit. At rather low levels—Jacobson told me that about 25 pounds of the stuff will treat a typical 500,000 gallon pit—the stuff effectively breaks up the foam, likely by altering the mix of microbes present

Philpott closes by noting,

Thankfully, monensin isn't used in human medicine. Still, it's striking to consider that the meat industry's ravenous appetite for antibiotics has now extended to having to treat hog shit with them.

We think we may be finished giggling about this, finally, because we are scared shitless. This exploding foamy pigshit is, in all seriousness, no laughing (fecal) matter.

[Mother Jones]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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