Experts explain how weather played role in farmer's death

Grain elevators and silos
Grain elevators and silos(WSAW)
Published: Aug. 18, 2016 at 4:09 PM CDT
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Funeral services a for a 29-year-old Amherst man who died Monday from gas poisoning on his family farm were held Thursday.

The Portage County Coroner said Michael Biadasz was performing a routine task near a manure holding tank when toxic air overcame him.

Several factors contributed to the fatal event. Ag education organizations said they have been getting calls from concerned farmers following Biadasz's death.

Cheryl Skjoloass is an agricultural safety and health specialist at UW-Madison and Extension. She said the gases that are released in that process of working with manure--methane, carbon dioxide, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, can be deadly.

But other factors such as temperature and humidity likely played a role.

"Hydrogen sulfide is one of the gases that is heavier than air and will settle towards the ground anyhow,” she said.

When the manure is moved around, Those gases get stirred up. In the case of Michael Biadasz, who was working near a manure holding tank, she said his exposure may have been greater than what's normal.

"When we look at that manure slurry that's in storage, that decomposition process is going on,” she explained.

She said the lack of wind dispersing the gas during the start of agitation became deadly.

Ashley Allen of the National Weather Service in Green Bay also agrees weather was a factor.

“That air definitely wasn't moving at all,” she said.

Allen said Biadasz found himself in the middle of a weather occurrence, called an "upper air inversion". Meaning temperatures were actually going up as you move higher in the atmosphere, instead of down.

"And what will happen with that is any air below that inversion will kind of get trapped because it's very stable , not a whole lot is moving. It's going to stay right near the surface,” she said of Monday's condition.

"It's very possible that we were trapping some toxins in that moisture as well,” she said as she touched on the day's humidity.

But there are some safety precautions farmers can take according to Skjoloass.

Have a multi-gas monitor when you're in those environments, work with more than one person in that environment, and take a look at the weather conditions ahead of time.

According to his obituary, memorial will be directed to a farm safety program.

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