Monthly Archives: January 2018

Ageing Power Stations Wasting Water

The value of water

Ageing power stations are wasting vast amounts of water

The City of Johannesburg has suddenly become terribly concerned about water security, leading it to implement level 2 water restrictions.

Households must, the city says, immediately reduce water use by at least 15%. This means that households may not use hosepipes to wash cars or clean pavements, or use municipal water to fill swimming pools.

In addition, heavy-consuming households can expect a 10% to 30% increase in their water bills each month.

Little attention has been given to industry, agriculture or power generation.

These new rules have been set against a context where one small environmental justice organisation, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, has been demanding answers to the city’s irresponsible water use for months.

In fact, Earthlife has been demanding answers from the city to no avail, particularly on the amount of water used and wasted by the coal-fired Kelvin Power Station in Kempton Park, eastern Johannesburg.

Not only do ageing coal-fired power stations – such as Kelvin, which is one of the oldest in the country – use 45 million litres of water per hour, they are also the primary reason behind climate change.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a structural drought leading to agricultural loss, food price hikes, immigration, increased disease and increased unemployment.

It is a no-brainer then that the City of Johannesburg should examine the real culprit of water loss first: coal-fired power stations such as Kelvin.

Yet, the water use at Kelvin remains a mystery, even to the city itself. It appears that no one can, or is willing to, give Earthlife any answers.

In addition, Kelvin has a 20-year preferential price and water supply agreement with the city, which will last until 2021.

Earthlife has been campaigning for years for the City of Johannesburg to close the filthy Kelvin Power Station down for good, and to replace it with clean and sustainable renewable energy.

Recently, the environmental justice organisation, represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, wrote to the City of Johannesburg demanding to know the following:

. Who is the current owner of the Kelvin Power Station?

. At what price does Kelvin sell electricity to City Power?

. What percentage of City Power’s electricity does Kelvin provide?

. What will the position be once the agreement between City Power and Kelvin terminates in 2021?

. At what price does Johannesburg Water sell water to Kelvin Power Station?

. How much water does Johannesburg Water supply to Kelvin?

. By how much does the City of Johannesburg subsidise Kelvin Power Station?

The City refused to answer the questions posed and insisted that the organisation make use of requests in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

The act requests were made and the deadline for the city to respond was August 29. The city has subsequently requested more time to provide the information.

A lot of work needs to be done to educate South African people, and the people of Gauteng, on the true meaning of environmentalism.

South Africa is fast on track to becoming one of the most polluted countries in the world, and if citizens don’t look outside their own back yards first to protect their constitutional rights to live in an environment that is clean and not detrimental to their health, we are doomed.

Source – Fin24

The world needs to rethink the value of water

The value of water

Research led by Oxford University highlights the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally. A new four-part framework is proposed to value water for sustainable development to guide better policy and practice.

The value of water for people, the environment, industry, agriculture and cultures has been long-recognised, not least because achieving safely-managed drinking water is essential for human life. The scale of the investment for universal and safely-managed drinking water and sanitation is vast, with estimates around $114B USD per year, for capital costs alone.

But there is an increasing need to re-think the value of water for a number of reasons:

  1. Water is not just about sustaining life, it plays a vital role in sustainable development. Water’s value is evident in all of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, from poverty alleviation and ending hunger, where the connection is long recognised – to sustainable cities and peace and justice, where the complex impacts of water are only now being fully appreciated.
  2. Water security is a growing global concern. The negative impacts of water shortages, flooding and pollution have placed water related risks among the top 5 global threats by the World Economic Forum for several years running. In 2015, Oxford-led research on water security quantified expected losses from water shortages, inadequate water supply and sanitation and flooding at approximately $500B USD annually. Last month the World Bank demonstrated the consequences of water scarcity and shocks: the cost of a drought in cities is four times greater than a flood, and a single drought in rural Africa can ignite a chain of deprivation and poverty across generations.

Recognising these trends, there is an urgent and global opportunity to re-think the value of water, with the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water launching a new initiative on Valuing Water earlier this year. The growing consensus is that valuing water goes beyond monetary value or price. In order to better direct future policies and investment we need to see valuing water as a governance challenge.

An international team led by Oxford University and partners across the world has published a new paper in Science in which they chart a new framework to value water for the Sustainable Development Goals. Putting a monetary value on water and capturing the cultural benefits of water are only one step. They suggest that valuing and managing water requires parallel and coordinated action across four priorities: measurement, valuation, trade-offs and capable institutions for allocating and financing water.

Lead author Dustin Garrick, University of Oxford, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment:”Our paper responds to a global call to action: the cascading negative impacts of scarcity, shocks and inadequate water services underscore the need to value water better. There may not be any silver bullets, but there are clear steps to take. We argue that valuing water is fundamentally about navigating trade-offs. The objective of our research is to show why we need to rethink the value of water, and how to go about it, by leveraging technology, science and incentives to punch through stubborn governance barriers. Valuing water requires that we value institutions.”

Co-author Richard Damania, Global Lead Economist, World Bank Water Practice:”We show that water underpins development, and that we must manage it sustainably. Multiple policies will be needed for multiple goals. Current water management policies are outdated and unsuited to addressing the water related challenges of the 21st century. Without policies to allocate finite supplies of water more efficiently, control the burgeoning demand for water and reduce wastage, water stress will intensify where water is already scarce and spread to regions of the world – with impacts on economic growth and the development of water-stressed nations.”

Co-Author Erin O’ Donnell, University of Melbourne:”2017 is a watershed moment for the status of rivers. Four rivers have been granted the rights and powers of legal persons, in a series of groundbreaking legal rulings that resonated across the world. This unprecedented recognition of the cultural and environmental value of rivers in law compels us to re-examine the role of rivers in society and sustainable development, and rethink our paradigms for valuing water.”

Read more at:

Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Asthma and Pollution

Asthma and pollution

5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Asthma

Anyone who has breathing difficulties knows just how much it can seriously affect quality of life. Unfortunately, as pollution levels rise, so, too, does the rate of asthma. Recent data from the Center for Disease Control reveals hard truths. In the U.S., for example, 1 in 12 adults have asthma and 9 die from it every day.  Of course, pollution’s not the only culprit. Asthma has many causes, after all, and while there may not be a cure, the disease is certainly manageable.

Asthma is a challenging issue to address, because there are a number of underlying factors that contribute to the disease. As you may know, addressing the underlying cause is the best way to approach any type of health condition. In order to understand the full spectrum of factors associated with asthma, here’s 5 things you should keep in mind.

1. Energy Efficiency is Partly to Blame

Despite more and more homes being made energy efficient, asthma rates continue to rise. A study out of the UK suggests these efficient homes ventilate less, leading to a damper environment conducive for mold.  Not only that, poor ventilation could lead to exposure to other asthma-triggering contaminants, and high humidity could invite household dust mites and other nasties.

2. A Little Dirt Can Be a Good Thing

Sometimes we can be a little too clean, and that could be hurting our children. Many studies suggest over protecting a child from germs can lead to a greater risk for developing asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood. For example, hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial wipes are two things we tend to overuse on our kids (and ourselves). Often, plain old soap and water is the best way to go. The latest study even suggests exposing newborns to certain bacteria during the first two weeks of life can help protect them against asthma.

3. Giving Antibiotics to Infants Can Make Them More Prone to Asthma

While avoiding antibacterial products could be beneficial to your child’s health, it might pay to avoid heavy antibiotic use. The premise is the same here: overuse leads to bacterial resistance, and this, in turn, could increase a child’s risk for asthma. According to a large study, infants who take antibiotics are twice as likely than their counterparts to develop wheezing.

4. Convenient, Spray-On Sunscreen Can Cause an Attack

While those spray-on sunscreens may be super convenient, the FDA is currently studying whether or not these aerosols are dangerous to kids who have breathing difficulties. The worry is that spraying these on or near the faces of these kids could trigger attacks. In the meantime, Consumer Reports reminds us to look into other options.  With UV radiation always a concern, maybe this could be a great time to look into a new, non-aerosol sunscreen.

5. Where Asthma Is, Allergies Are Found

An astonishing 90 percent of US kids with asthma also have allergies, suggesting a link between the two. In the case of some of these kids, especially those with poorly controlled or undiagnosed asthma, these allergies can cause reactions that are tough to handle. Take the case of the US toddler who went into anaphylactic shock after eating an orange. Oddly enough, she had orange juice before without a problem, but she also turned out to have undiagnosed asthma. In the toddler’s case, and others like hers, one thought is that it might not be the fruit causing the allergic reaction, but the pesticides on the fruit.  Asthma is a very real concern worldwide, but many people assume it’s only a problem in the city; however, recent reports suggest it’s much more widespread. The disease has slowly moved into rural communities and suburbs, and it’s not going away.

8 Crazy Facts About Air Pollution

Air pollution has many sources — cigarette smoke, automobiles, and industrial chemicals are only a few things that pollute the air we breathe. Let’s look at 8 crazy facts about air pollution you probably haven’t heard about.

1. BPA is Polluting the Air

It’s not just “standard” pollutants that are an issue. BPA (Bisphenol-A) is also invading our air and it’s not going away.  In 2013, for example, industrial plants in Deer Park, Texas, emitted over 4,100 pounds of the endocrine disruptor.  As more and more chemical companies use BPA to make plastic stronger, the toxin is constantly released into the environment. Some think the lungs and skin also absorb BPA, which is a serious issue because the body does not metabolize the compound.

2. Air Pollution is a Deadly Health Crisis in the UK

The Environmental Audit Committee of UK’s Parliament recently argued that air pollution brings almost the same death toll as smoking. The committee even wants to phase out diesel cars because they’re the biggest part of the problem. Just how much pollution are we talking about? Around 46% of carbon monoxide, 42% nitrogen oxides, and 26% particulate matter all comes courtesy of these engines.  As pollution becomes an extreme health crisis in the UK, it makes you wonder if it’s reached that level in America. Have we just not acknowledged it?

3. The Air in Your Own Home is Likely the Worst

It’s not only the air outside; household air is often terrible. The World Health Organization even weighed in and released a report that highlighted the dangers of burning fuels like coal or kerosene.While this is a bigger issue in low- and middle-income countries, gas or kerosene space heaters–something many Americans use–can also be part of the problem.  While airtight spaces only contribute to the problem, recent evidence suggests they not only affect your physical health, but also your mental state.  Workers in windowless rooms had poorer sleep habits and lower overall qualities of life than their counterparts.

4. Air Pollution Makes You Look Old

Procter & Gamble recently released a report that polluted air can contain over 200 chemicals that age the skin. This becomes a big issue in larger cities with more pollutants; in fact, in a study of over 200 urban and rural women aged 30 to 45, pollution from city life added as much as 10 percent to perceived aging.

5. Air Pollution is Linked to Attention Problems

As more and more children are diagnosed with attention disorders, air pollution could be a factor. One study suggests that it is the mother’s exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—emitted by burning fossil fuels—that is the main issue; however, new evidence takes that idea even further. A new study looks at how unborn children exposed to high levels of pollutants in car exhaust are five times more likely to develop an attention disorder by age 9.  Air pollution can leave its mark; kids with ADHD, for example, have a higher risk for poor academic performance, risky behaviors, and there’s even the possibility of decreased earnings in adulthood. There is even some evidence linking indoor air pollution with autism.

6. The Air at the Gym is Horrible

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the gym has some pretty bad air quality. Could that smell, which you might’ve always associated with smelly gym socks, actually be an indicator of air quality? A research team in Portugal set out to answer that question by measuring the air quality of 11 gyms and found high levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde, and carbon dioxide.

7. Air Pollution is Affecting the Sistine Chapel

Nearly 6 million people visit the Sistine chapel every year and in 2010, it was discovered that increased levels of carbon dioxide from the breath of visitors was causing the frescoes to whiten.  A build up of powder made up of calcium carbonate and calcium bicarbonate was removed before any lasting damage could be done, but this byproduct sort of makes you think twice about increased levels of carbon dioxide.

8. Burning Money Causes Air Pollution

It’s no surprise that burning trash is a massive source of air pollution; in fact, a study estimates that more than 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned, releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, particulate matter, and other toxins into the air. Who would have guessed, though, that burning money also contributes to this pollution? A study in Taiwan found that ritual burning of paper money (at temples and festivals) added nearly double the number of toxins to the air.

One Final Thought

As you might’ve already guessed, pollution is a huge problem. At times, it might feel like too big for you to control, but trust me, nothing you do to help is too small. Always invest in an air filter for your home, and if possible for your place of business.

Source – Global Healing Centre

Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

How to Have a Healthy Home

According to experts, air pollution is the main cause of virtually all respiratory problems – and the pollution could be higher inside your home than outdoors.

Air pollution can cause a myriad of health problems, the least serious of which include headaches, blurred vision, sore throat, dizziness and difficulty in breathing.

And since many people now spend much of their lives indoors, it’s vital that you do all you can to minimise indoor pollution because contaminants can remain for extended periods of time.

Research shows that complete air exchange in your house will only happen around once every six hours and new figures from experts in the USA suggest that pollutants in the home can be anywhere from two to five times higher than those you face outside!

In extreme cases (such as homes which have a smoker, pets and a cupboard full of regularly–used products such as cleaning sprays and beauty products), the air pollution could even be up to 100 times higher than outdoors.

Indoor Pollutants

There are a number of obvious culprits such as air fresheners, cleaning products, animals, dust and CFC sprays and of course, one major hazard is cigarette smoke (and second-hand smoke to which children are particularly vulnerable.)

Smoke can trigger asthma and a range of other respiratory problems but lesser known forms of pollution include black mould – the type that you often see on the ceiling or walls of a poorly heated or ventilated room.

Then there’s Radon, a radioactive gas formed in the soil which can find its way inside homes where walls and floors are in direct contact with the ground but are not adequately sealed.

Radon is an invisible, odourless gas – but its effects can be serious. In fact, Radon is thought to be the second highest cause of lung cancer in Britain (after cigarette smoke.)

Levels of Radon vary throughout the UK – but there are isolated pockets of heavy pollution with some areas having levels almost 30 times those of elsewhere.

Radon affected areas have been identified in parts of Cornwall, Derbyshire, Scotland, Northampton, Somerset and Northern Ireland and the government has now produced online maps showing identification of high radon areas.

People living in homes with fuel burning appliances can also be at risk of pollution from nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide where the appliances do not have sufficient vents.

The health effects include throat irritation, shortness of breath and in the case of severe carbon monoxide poisoning, weakness, nausea and even death.

Everyday Pollutants

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are found in most homes in paints, varnishes, waxes, air fresheners and building materials – to name just a few.

They release toxins into the air when the product is used or poorly stored. Some are thought to have cancer-causing agents and the side effects of VOC exposure can include damage to the nervous system, liver and kidneys.

How to Improve Indoor Air

The first action should be to ventilate your home as far as possible. In days gone by, most houses had their windows open during daylight hours to bring in fresh air but many people now keep windows closed to keep the heat in.

But the more fresh air you bring into the house, the quicker the toxins will be replaced by “good” air. If you have air conditioning, make sure the filters are changed regularly because they will trap dust and other toxins.

Other long term actions include:

  • Vacuuming weekly to eliminate dust which can trigger asthma
  • Asking smokers not to smoke indoors
  • Washing sheets and blankets weekly in very hot water
  • Keeping pets out of bedrooms and off the furniture

Be Wary of Cleaning Products

Don’t just assume that all the ingredients in your bathroom cleaner or polish are harmless! On the contrary – companies are not required to release ‘trade secrets’ on product packaging, so you can’t always see how much of a certain chemical they contain.

(In fact, 80% of household products have been found to contain ingredients linked to allergies in children.)

Children are far more vulnerable than adults to illnesses caused by toxins in the home because their organs are yet to fully develop and their immune systems are still learning to fend off illness.

Natural and Eco-friendly Products

When shopping for products for use in your home – everything from anti-perspirant deodorant to oven or bathroom cleaners – go for the least toxic. There are now alternatives to many chemical products so look first for those in which ingredients are 100% derived and sourced from plant-based material.

As well as helping to protect your family from harmful and easily avoidable toxins, you will also be protecting the planet by using products which have less impact on the environment.

To read more on healthy home and housing visit – Sustainable Build

Healthy ways to keep out critters and bugs

Let’s face it: Most people hate pesky invaders in their home. But that seldom stops critters and bugs to find a way in.

When temperatures drop, a natural response is to seek warmer and cozier surroundings — not just for people but for all kinds of creatures. Most homeowners are aware and on the lookout for signs that critters and insects try to invade their buildings and living spaces.

Pest management is an important part of home ownership and building maintenance. But while many people may turn towards chemical-laden pesticides as a control measure, experts have been calling for a more environmentally friendly and prevention-based way to control bugs and critters: Integrated pest management.

What are pests?

We may call annoying family members or co-workers a pest sometimes, but pests are defined as animals or plants with harmful effects on humans, food or living conditions.

These include

  • Mosquitoes (they can spread diseases)
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Silverfish (they may damage clothing)
  • Termites (they may damage the building)
  • Bedbugs
  • Cockroaches
  • Flies
  • Lice
  • Fleas
  • Mites
  • Spiders

Seeing the occasional spider or mosquito inside a home is nothing to fret about, since they occasionally enter the home through open doors or windows. But many pests carry diseases and contribute to bad air quality, so preventing infestations is key.

What to do about pests

Integrated pest management is all about prevention, monitoring and control. It includes regular inspections of the home or building, keeping records of the findings and pinpointing trends in outbreaks.

Most experts will tell you that you can never fully get rid of pests – you can only control their population and make sure they are not turning into an all-out infestation.

It’s nevertheless possible to control pests with proper cleaning and maintenance, structural repairs, mechanical and living biological controls, non-chemical methods, and the least toxic pesticides – if, and only if, all other methods of control have been exhausted.

According to Beyond Pesticides, the least toxic pesticides include boric acid, desiccant dusts (diatomaceous earth and silica gel), microbe-based pesticides and pesticides made with certain essential oils.

Examples of IPM measures:

  1. Inspect a home and identify points of entry for pests such as mice. Even tiny holes above ground level can allow mice to squeeze through. Use caulk to seal cracks.
  2. Install screens on doors and windows.
  3. Store food properly and keep the kitchen free of dirt, grease and crumbs.

How toxic pesticides affect your health

Toxic pesticides are quite dangerous and should only be used when needed and according to the instructions. Government websites in North America feature long lists of possible health effects linked to pesticide use.

Mild poisoning: Effects include irritation to eyes, nose and throat, headaches, nausea, insomnia and many more

Moderate poisoning is characterized by vomiting, coughing, rapid pulse, weakness and mental confusion, among many other symptoms

Severe poisoning includes symptoms such as inability to breathe, muscle twitching, chemical burns and even death.

Children are most susceptible to pesticides and they should be protected as much as possible. Pesticides are made with complex chemicals, many of which are known to affect the neurological system or lead to the development of cancer. Traces of them can build up in human bodies and lead to health effects over time.

Article Source – Environmental Expert

Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Measurement of dustfall rate within a residential home using small filters

A very interesting read – measurement of dustfall rate within a residential home using small filters.

“Nuisance Dusts” – Validation and Application of a Novel Dry Deposition Method for Total Dust Fall Gary T. Hunt TRC Corporation, Wannalancit Mills, Lowell, MA USA

1. Introduction

Nuisance dust complaints received from residents living in the vicinity of a coal fired power plant in the eastern United States prompted development of a monitoring program to quantify the frequency of incidents as well as the magnitude of the problem (if any).

Nuisance dusts (in this context defined as visible dust deposits on solid surfaces) while regulated by some state and local agencies, have no quantitative standards or guidelines associated with them that define acceptable levels (concentrations) in ambient air or deposited on surfaces. Methods historically used to measure and/or characterize airborne dusts have included manual (Wheeler, J.P. and J.P. Stancliffe, 1998., ASTM D6966-08.) and automatic wipe sampling techniques (Wheeler, J.P. and J.P. Stancliffe, 1998.) use of adhesive tapes (Wheeler, J.P. and J.P. Stancliffe, 1998.) passive sampling using open faced containers (Estokova, A, N. Stevulova and L. Kubincova, 2010, ASTM D-1739-98, Reapproved 2004., James P. Lodge, Jr, Editor Lewis Publishers, 1989.) and vacuum or suction sampling apparatus (Byrne, M.A., 2000., ASTM D- 5438-05, 2005.)

While all of these techniques have been employed for collection of surface dusts they were not suitable for the current application for one or more of the following reasons: 1) not suitable for gravimetric measurements (wipe sampling for example) , 2) designed for the collection of wet and dry dusts combined and not dry surface dusts only (passive collection in open faced containers for example), 3) qualitative characterization only of dry dusts present on surfaces (adhesive tape sampling for example 4) ease in deployment and recovery at multiple stations simultaneously.

In order to meet the needs of the monitoring program the preferred method was characterized as follows: 1) ease in deployment and recovery of dust collection devices at multiple stations simultaneously,
2) samples represent passive dry dust fall on surfaces (these types of dusts were the basis for the nuisance complaints),
3) inexpensive,
4) citizens/homeowners could participate with minimal training
5) ability to collect gravimetric data (weight of particulate per unit time and unit surface area),
6) field samples after gravimetry were suitable for further chemical analyses employing non destructive techniques without the need for pretreatment (filter based device).

As a result, a pre-existing filter sampling technique (Dzubay, T. and R. Barbour, 1983.) was selected for use in dust fall monitoring. The filter sampling technique was modified and a monitoring program designed to meet the above characteristics.

The total dust fall monitoring program included measures for validation of the customized monitoring method as well as collection of data defining what constitutes background particulate levels in the study area. These background levels were needed as a “benchmark” in assigning significance to the program’s collected data in the absence of published regulatory values. The monitoring program was designed to measure total dust fall (non-respirable) as surface dust deposits and relied on passive particulate collection devices. Preconditioned and pre-weighed filter media were deployed at ten (10) sites in the metropolitan area. Residential hosts who agreed to participate in the program on a voluntary basis operated the majority of the sites used. Criteria for site selection included coverage of all wind vectors in the vicinity of coal handling processes at the power plant as well as residential properties where nuisance dust complaints had been recorded previously. Filter collection media were employed for sampling events expected to last one calendar week or seven (7) days.

This provided an exposure period that maximized collection of particulate matter, and yet limited non-detected values. All residential hosts received training in filter deployment, recovery, handling and shipping procedures.

2. Program purpose and objectives

The primary purpose of the program was to conduct a total particulate or “total dust fall“ monitoring program in the vicinity of the coal fired power plant employing passive dry deposition techniques. It was anticipated that the results of this program would assist the facility in determining the fate of dusts potentially released during coal handling events at the facility, as well as, in the identification of likely sources of dust deposits observed in offsite residential properties.

Please follow the link to continue reading about measurement of dustfall rate – Intech – Open Science

Dust Monitoring Equipment – providing equipment, services and training in dust fallout management to the mining industry.

Measurement of dustfall rate

Livestock Confinement Dust And Gases

Happy New Year!  Here’s an interesting read from the National Ag Safety Database regarding Livestock Confinement Dust And Gases


In typical modern livestock housing, where animals are densely confined, dusts from the animals, their feed, and their feces, ammonia (NH3) which comes primarily from the animals’ urine and feces, and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from manure pits, especially during agitation and emptying, can rise to harmful levels. Dust and gas levels are highest in winter, although dust levels increase whenever animals are fed, handled, or moved. Hazardous dusts and gases induce the strongest and most frequent human respiratory responses in swine confinement buildings. This unit concentrates on workers in these buildings, although similar respiratory responses could occur among poultry confinement workers or (less commonly and severely) workers in other types of confinement operations.

Confinement dusts and gases can affect any exposed person within a short time, and in extreme cases have caused sudden death or have forced owners, employees, and veterinarians to stay out of confinement buildings or seek other employment. Responses often vary from person to person, may affect any part of the respiratory tract, and may include irritant, toxic, or allergic processes. Potential responses include acute or chronic bronchitis (the most common reaction), increased airways reactivity, asthma, chronic airways obstruction, and a systemic influenza-like reaction, the toxic organic dust syndrome or TODS. When manure pits constructed underneath confinement buildings are agitated for emptying, the level of H2S can rise to lethal levels within seconds; this has caused a number of deaths. Researchers suspect that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may occur among confinement workers with long-term exposure.

When diagnosing and treating respiratory illness in confinement workers, physicians should make a conscientious attempt to discover links between exposure to dusts and gases in the houses and the illness. This will avoid use of nonspecific treatments that are ineffective in the long run. Instead a patient must be protected by reducing dust and gas levels in the confinement house through engineering and management practices, or by use of respirators. Confinement house workers should be monitored for development of chronic respiratory problems. Manure pits should never be entered without proper respiratory protection, and when pits are being agitated or emptied, workers should stay out of the pits and out of the buildings above them.


Compared to conventional livestock housing, the typical confinement system is more enclosed and tightly constructed. A much higher density of animals is housed in these buildings, usually for 24 hours a day from birth to shipment to the slaughter house. Because large numbers of animals are confined in small spaces, these buildings must include devices to ventilate and heat the buildings and to dispose of animal wastes. Often, feeding and watering operations are semiautomatic or automatic. (See Fig. 1) Poultry confinement operations first appeared in the United States in the late 1950’s. Swine confinement operations came into use a decade later. Today sheep, beef cattle, dairy cattle, and veal calves also are housed in confinement buildings, although far less commonly than swine and poultry. Quarters for these other animals often are not completely enclosed, or the animals may be kept outside for at least part of the year.

Manure is handled by one of two systems: it either drops through a slatted floor into a pit beneath the house where it remains until the manure slurry is pumped out to be distributed on fields (usually twice a year), or it is removed through any of several mechanisms to a storage pit or lagoon outside the building. Outside storage is typical of most newer systems, but a large number of older buildings with pits directly below the house remain in operation.

What toxic dusts and gases are found in confinement houses?

Dust is generated from animals and their feed, and dust and gases from animal wastes. These dusts and gases accumulate to concentrations that may be hazardous to human and animal health.

Each confinement house contains its own complex mixture of dusts and gases, which is dependent on numerous factors including ventilation of the building, the type of animals, how they are fed, and how their wastes are handled. (See Fig. 2) Dust and gas composition change within a single house over time. The types of confinement operations and corresponding dust and gas exposures are listed in Table 1. This unit concentrates on swine operations, where potentially hazardous dusts and gases and resulting health problems are best studied and are thought to be most extreme. Similar responses would occur most commonly among poultry confinement workers.

Table 1

Dusts and Gases In Various confinement Operations: Implications for Human Health

Type of

Confinement                            Gases
operation        Dusts              NH2        H2S(following manure
swine         major concern         moderate   major concern

poultry       moderate concern      major      none (manure is
                                    concern    stored as solid)

sheep         minimal concern       moderate   major concern, if
veal calf     (lower dust           concern    have liquid manure
dairy cattle  concentrations,                  system
beef cattle   resulting in
              fewer and less
              severe inflammatory

Dust particles contain approximately 25% protein, and range in size from less than 2 microns to 50 microns in diameter. One-third of the particles are within the respirable size range (less than 1011 in diameter). 125 Fecal material particles including proteins from gut epithelium are quite small and constitute the major alveolar burden, while large particles of feed grains form the major airways burden. Also present are animal dander, broken bits of hair, bacteria, bacterial endotoxins, pollen grains, insect parts, and fungal spores. The dust absorbs NH3 and possibly other toxic or irritating gases (e.g. H2S), multiplying the potential hazards of each gas individually. Ammonia, for example, may adsorb to respirable particles and be drawn deep into the lungs where it possibly could cause irritation or increase inflammatory responses to the dust.

Toxic, irritating, and asphyxiating gases are continuously generated in the manure pit, and can rise into a confinement house. Of the 40-plus gas types in anaerobically degenerating manure, H2S, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and carbon monoxide (CO) are present most commonly and in highest concentrations. The majority of NH3 is thought to be released by bacterial action on urine and feces on the confinement house floors. Carbon monoxide and CO2 may be produced by heating systems in winter, as well as by the animals’ respiration (CO2 only).

Who is exposed to these dusts and gases, and when?

Dust and gas concentrations in swine confinement buildings can be high enough to affect anyone who enters, but persons with long-term occupational exposures are in greatest danger of developing chronic problems and possibly irreversible lung damage. Confinement house owners and managers, hired hands, and farm family members may work in the houses anywhere from a few hours a week to eight or more hours daily. (See Fig. 3) During this time, workers are preparing feed, feeding animals, cleaning the building, sorting and moving animals from one building to another, and performing routine vaccinations, treatments, or other management and maintenance procedures. The turnover rate of hired swine confinement house workers is quite high, and some owners have had to sell their operations because they could not work in their own units, reportedly because of respiratory problems. Some veterinarians who entered houses sporadically to treat sick animals have reported that the severity of their respiratory reactions forces them to stay out of these buildings, or to use respirators effective in reducing exposure.

Dust and gas loads increase in winter when the houses are tightly closed to conserve heat, and when CO and CO2 are released from poorly vented or improperly functioning heaters. Dust loads also increase when animals are being moved, handled, and fed. Ventilation systems frequently do not reduce dust or gas levels adequately, so that levels remain unhealthful for humans. When ventilation systems fail for several hours, CO2 from animal respiration, heaters, and manure pits can rise to asphyxiating levels. Although some massive animal losses have been attributed to this situation, it is probably not a human health threat.

Hydrogen sulfide from manure pits is most hazardous when the pits are fully or partially beneath the houses. However, if gases from outside pits are permitted to backflow, they too can enter confinement units. Manure pit gases pose an acute hazard when the liquid manure slurry is agitated, a common operation performed to suspend solids so that pits can be pumped empty. During agitation, H2S can be released rapidly, soaring from usual ambient levels of less than 5 ppm to lethal levels of over 500 ppm within seconds.20 Animals have died and workers have become seriously ill in swine confinement buildings when H2S has risen from agitated pits underneath. Several workers have died when entering a pit during or soon after the emptying process to repair pumping equipment or clean out solids.20 Persons attempting to rescue these workers also have died. Workers may be exposed to high H2S levels when they enter the pit to retrieve animals or tools, or to repair ventilation systems or cracks in the cement.

Swine confinement houses and resulting health problems are concentrated in the Corn Belt of the Midwest, but are also found in western Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and in southeastern states including North Carolina and Georgia. Poultry confinement houses and resulting respiratory problems are concentrated in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and Far West. Other types of confinement operations are ,primarily located in the Midwest’s Corn Belt.

How commonly does such exposure occur?

In the United States, an estimated 700,000 persons work in confinement operations. This number includes owner-operators, spouses, children, employees, and veterinarians. In a highly agricultural state such as Iowa, over 80,000 persons (or an estimated 53% of the people working with swine) work in swine confinement buildings. Included in this number are spouses and children who may work short periods of time.

The largest group of exposed workers with the most frequent and severe health problems is associated with swine confinement houses. Here, the average dust load is six milligrams per cubic meter. Buildings with 10 to 20 milligrams are common, concentrations high enough so that one is unable to see clearly across a 100 foot room. Concentrations of H2S, CO2, and CO may exceed levels recommended as safe in industrial occupational settings. Nearly 70% of swine confinement workers experience one or more symptoms of respiratory illness or irritation. Prevalence of respiratory illness among workers in nonswine confinement operations is lower.


Inhalation of confinement house dusts and gases produces a complex set of respiratory responses. An individual’s response depends on characteristics of the inhaled components (such as composition, particulate size, and antigenicity) and on the individual’s susceptibility, which is tempered by extant respiratory conditions (including allergies and asthma), reactivity of the bronchi, and smoking history. Irritant, toxic, or allergic processes may be involved, alone or in combination. Since dusts include both respirable (~10 microns ) and larger (10–50 microns ) particles, lung tissues, large airways, and small airways may all be affected. For the most part, responses cannot be tied to a specific dust or gas component. Specific mechanisms involved often cannot be defined, and conditions may be described symptomatically.

Acute, delayed, and chronic responses are described in following paragraphs and outlined in Table 3. Descriptions concentrate on health problems of swine confinement workers. Hazardous exposures of other types of confinement operations have been listed in Table 1; respiratory problems vary accordingly.

Symptoms of swine confinement workers are listed in Table 2. The most common respiratory symptoms (cough, sputum production, chest tightness, shortness of breath, and wheezing) are manifestations of airways disease, composed of bronchitis often associated with increased airways reactivity Evidence suggests that those exposed become increasingly reactive to the confinement environment with increasing exposure (greater than two hours per day and six years work experience). In general, the symptoms increase among smokers and also increase as the number of swine raised increases. Health effects are also greater among those with pre-existing respiratory problems (hay fever, bronchitis) and among those with heart trouble or allergies. Chest tightness, coughing, nasal, and eye symptoms have been experienced in some persons within 30 minutes of entering these houses for the first time, but usually two or more hours of exposure are required. These symptoms usually disappear 24 to 48 hours after leaving the unit, although they can persist for several days or weeks or even months among workers exposed for several years. A small percentage, 12%, of these cases are thought to be specific allergic-mediated illnesses such as asthma (classical type 1 reactions), while the remaining proportion appears to be nonallergic reactions.

Table 2 Symptoms of Swine Confinement Workers

Symptom                   Prevalence
Cough                        67%
Sputum or phlegm             56%
Scratchy throat              54%
Runny nose                   45%
Burning or watering eyes     39%
Headaches                    37%
Tightness of chest           36%
Shortness of breath          30%
Wheezing                     27%
Muscle aches and pains       25%

Manure pit agitation can result in the sudden release of large quantities of H2S causing H2S intoxication (See Fig. 4) At moderately high concentrations (100-400 ppm), H2S produces rhinitis, cough, dyspnea, tracheobronchitis, and possibly pulmonary edema; at higher concentrations, sudden collapse associated with respiratory paralysis and pulmonary edema occurs. A number of deaths of confinement workers have resulted from this exposure.

Delayed responses include a toxic organic dust syndrome (TODS) experienced four to six hours after working for several hours in a confinement house during particularly dusty operations such as handling, moving, or sorting animals. Symptoms include fever, malaise, muscle aches and pains, headache, cough, and tightness of chest. This episodic problem, experienced by about 10% of workers in confinement buildings,1 may be the same toxic syndrome resulting from exposure to decayed plant material (see Unit 2) and grain dusts (see Unit 3). Inhaled endotoxins from aerosolized gram-negative bacteria might cause this syndrome.

Chronic health effects are manifest as chronic bronchitis with or without airways obstruction, experienced by 58% of all swine confinement workers. This is the most commonly defined chronic health problem of this occupational group, and is suffered by three times as many swine confinement workers as farmers who work in conventional swine housing units or in agricultural operations other than swine or poultry production. Symptoms include chronic cough, with excess production of phlegm and sometimes chronic wheezing. Smokers experience a greater prevalence and severity of chronic bronchitis than do nonsmokers. Most workers removed from the confinement house environment become asymptomatic (in the absence of smoking) within a few months, but bronchitic symptoms in some workers can persist for two years or more.

Chronic or irreversible airways obstruction other than chronic bronchitis has not been identified, but long-term lung damage may be occurring. Confinement workers’ lung functions do not differ significantly from those of workers in conventional swine buildings when baseline PFT’s (FEV and FVC) are measured in the morning, before work begins.1721 However, these pulmonary function values of most confinement house workers do decrease significantly through the workday. In addition, the severity of chronic bronchitic symptoms increases in workers with a longer history of confinement house work. This suggests that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may occur among these workers in future years. Evidence of permanent lung damage has not yet been found, possibly because swine confinement houses are a relatively new innovation or because there have been no systematic clinical studies to assess confinement workers. In 1981, the average swine producer with confinement structures had used these structures for only six years.

Because of the high concentrations of animals and associated microorganisms, infectious diseases transmissible to humans are especially hazardous when contracted by confined animals. Some of these infectious diseases are described in Unit 7.


Use of diagnostic aids is of secondary importance to a detailed clinical and occupational history. Remember that a patient’s response to confinement dusts and gases is variable, and that one or more conditions may be occurring simultaneously. Question a patient in detail about chief complaints, including questions on how long symptoms have been present and the time relationship of symptoms to work exposure. Take an in-depth personal and family medical history, including questions on allergies, asthma, and hobbies or personal habits (such as smoking) that might complicate the issue. Ask how many hours per day or week the patient works in confinement buildings, how long the patient has held this job, and what conditions prevail within the confinement building.

Physicians may fail to relate a patient’s symptoms to exposure to a confinement house atmosphere. In addition, misdiagnosis and subsequent treatment of confinement-related respiratory conditions as allergic responses are not uncommon; such treatment may provide symptomatic relief through bronchodilation, but is nonspecific and probably ineffective in the long run.

Table 3 Occupational Respiratory Conditions Associated with Swine Livestock Confinement–Diagnosis, Treatment, and Control



         Cough, with sputum production, possibly tightness of
         Very frequently seen among swine confinement workers;
          somewhat less often in poultry workers.
         Smoking associated with increased frequency and more
          severe symptoms.
         Symptoms continuing for 2 or more years classified as
          chronic bronchitis.
     Work Exposure:
          Usually occurs in those who work in swine confinement for
          2 or more hours per day. More frequent and severe for
          those who have worked 6 or more years in confinement.
          Generally occurs in buildings with poor environment:
          dusty (appears hazy and dust accumulates on accumulates
          on horizontal surfaces) poor ventilation, often older
          building (built before 1975).  Nursery buildings and
          those with manure pits under slatted floors may be
          biggest offenders.  Usually worst during cold weather.
     Diagnostic Aids:
         Symptoms and history usually sufficient for diagnosis.
         PFT may show decreased flow rates.
         Skin tests or other immunological tests not indicated.
         Protection from environment most important action.
         Medications usually not indicated.
         Antihistamines, decongestants, antibiotics may provide
          temporary relief of symptoms but should not be used
         Improved ventilation crucial.
         Employ management procedures to limit dust generation
          (i.e. frequent cleaning).
         Install dust and gas control technology.
         Establish a respirator program.
         Abstain from smoking.
         Most improve if environmental exposure is controlled
          through engineering, management, or use of respirator.
          Cessation of smoking also crucial.
         Temporary removal from the environment or use of a
          respirator may help until other measures can be taken.
         Long-term or permanent damage has not been reported to
         Usually not necessary to quit working.


         Chest tightness, mild dyspnea, some restriction and
          obstruction during breathing.
         Often accompanied by bronchitis.
         Very common in exposed workers.
         History similar to bronchitis, but often with a
          nonproductive cough.
     Work Exposure:
         Identical to bronchitis (above).
     Diagnostic Aids:
         PFT following a workshift shows flow decreased flow
          rates, primarily FEV, and FEV25-75.
         Respiratory challenge with methacholine or histamine show
          decreased PFT flow rates.
         Identical to bronchitis (above).
         Identical to bronchitis (above).


         Wheezing within minutes (immediate asthma) or for up to
          24 hours (delayed asthma) following exposure.
         Only seen in small percentage of workers (less than 10%).
     Work Exposure:
     :    Among atopics or those who already have asthma from
          another source, often occurs with first exposure.
     :    With other workers, a period of sensitization is
          required, which may vary from a few months to several
         Extent of exposure not as important (environment may be
          relatively clean, and a person may spend very small
          amount of time in building).
     Diagnostic Aids:
         Same as asthma from any other source: obstructive air
          flow patterns following exposure; skin test often
          positive to one or more of feed grains, hog dander, hog
          hair, various molds, dusts; associated with atopic status
          and increased airways reactivity.  Reversible with
         Medication and treatment same as any asthmatic.
         Attempts to control exposures by environmental control
          and respirators may or may not be helpful.
         Desensitization usually not applicable because of
          multiple antigens and irritant gases.
         Same as for any asthmatic.
         Depending on degree of sensitivity, may be almost
          impossible to protect these people from their
         This may be one condition for which patient must quit
          working in confinement house.
         Increased airway reactivity and asthma may continue past


     :    Fever, muscle aches, chest tightness, cough, malaise.
         Symptoms develop 4-6 hours following exposure.
         Self-limited symptoms usually resolve 24-72 hours.
         Recurrent episodes common.
         Seen in 10-15% of the swine farming population.
         Often observed in clusters where 2-3 workers have similar
     Work Exposure:
         Usually condition associated with work in a totally
          enclosed building.
         Usually follows a particularly heavy exposure (e.g. 4-6
          hours of very dusty work such as handling or sorting
     Diagnostic Aids:
         Elevated white blood cell count, usually neutrophilia.
         PFT will show decreased FEV, and diminished flow rates.
         PO2 may be decreased.
         Bronchoalveolar lavage usually shows PMN response.
         May show serum precipitins to various molds or dust
          extracts, but these are not diagnostic.
         X-ray may show scattered patchy infiltrates.
         Lung biopsy may show inflammatory polymorphonuclear cell
     :    Symptomatic treatment in acute stages may include oxygen,
          IV fluids to correct acid-base imbalance and dehydration.
         Aspirin may be used to control fever.
         Most cases do not seek medical attention; often confused
          with influenza.
         Usual recovery period 3-4 days, but patient may feel
          tired and have shortness of breath for several weeks.
         Subsequent attacks may occur in future following heavy


         Sudden and immediate onset of nausea, dizziness, possibly
          sudden collapse, respiratory distress, apnea.
         May lead to sudden death or patient may recover if
          removed from environment, often with dyspnea, hemoptysis,
          and pulmonary edema, following intensive treatment.
     Work Exposure:
     :    Almost always occurs with agitation of a liquid manure
          pit while emptying it.
     :    Respiratory effects will occur within seconds of
          encountering high concentration of H2S.
     Diagnostic Aids:
         If patient survives: - x-ray often shows pulmonary edema.
          - possibly presence of sulfhemoglobin and sulfide in
         If deceased: - autopsy shows pulmonary edema, froth in
          trachea, possibly greenish tinge to viscera. - blood
          contains sulfide and sulfhemoglobin.
         Remove exposed person from environment (without exposing
          others) and resuscitate. May have to ventilate.
         Seek medical care, watch for and control pulmonary edema.
         If patient survives initial exposure, will probably
          recover usually with minimal loss of lung function.
          Recovery period may be from days to 2-3 years, depending
          on severity of exposure.

Table 3 lists the primary respiratory conditions associated with confinement dusts and gases, including symptoms and signs, associated work exposure, and specific diagnostic aids. This table was developed from experience with swine confinement operations. Conditions provoked within other types of confinement buildings may differ.


Medically, little can be prescribed excluding treatment of some of the acute illnesses (asthma, pulmonary edema from H2S intoxication). These treatments, specific control measures, and the prognosis for these illnesses are listed in Table 3.

Respiratory conditions must be controlled through protecting the patient from the environment, either by reducing dust and gas levels or by isolating the patient from these substances. A patient may need to get in touch with a consulting veterinarian or agricultural engineer who has knowledge of environmental control. The local veterinarian or the Cooperative Extension Service agricultural engineer should be able to recommend an appropriate expert.

Physicians need to address the patient’s anxiety as well as the patient’s medical problems. Confinement workers often are told to quit working in confinement structures if they are having respiratory problems. Usually this recommendation is unnecessary. It may produce extreme mental stress, and should only be given once the cause and prognosis of illness have been determined and other avenues of controlling harmful exposures have been fully explored. In many instances, the farmer has no reasonable occupational choice other than to continue working in the confinement building. Also, quitting farming is leaving a life-style as well as a job.

Farmers are becoming increasingly aware of confinement-associated respiratory conditions. A physician can explain potential long-term respiratory conditions but also instill confidence regarding maintenance of the farmer’s health status, and assist in protecting the farmer from health problems of the work environment. Monitoring the patient’s respiratory status may be reassuring to many patients. An initial exam should include a thorough occupational history, spirometry, and a chest x-ray if patients are symptomatic. These can be repeated if clinically indicated at later annual check-ups.


Health hazards associated with confinement houses must be addressed through improvements in the environment and protection of the individual. Techniques for reducing or eliminating the sources of dusts and gases include delivering feed by extension spouts into covered feeders, rather than letting feed fall freely several feet from automatic delivery systems into open feeders (See Fig. 5), frequently and systematically washing buildings with power sprayers to keep them as clean as possible, using wire mesh floors which are more self-cleaning, and assuring that heating units are clean, vented, and functioning properly. Control techniques can be assessed by measuring dust and gas concentrations (see Unit 8).

Because it is impossible to eliminate the formation of dusts and gases, techniques for removing contaminants from the air of confinement houses are critically important. Ventilation will reduce gases, but not necessarily dusts, to healthful levels. Ventilation systems must be properly designed and maintained, and ventilation rates adjusted to include consideration of air quality. These rates often are kept low in winter because of concerns for conserving heat, causing dust and gas concentrations to rise. A number of engineering techniques (e.g. use of heat exchangers which allow increased ventilation while capturing some waste heat) have been tried with varying degrees of success.

Anyone working in a swine or poultry confinement house would be wise to wear a dust mask. Persons exposed to houses with high dust or gas concentrations, or persons with respiratory conditions, may need to use a more sophisticated respirator such as a half-mask cartridge respirator or air helmet. (See Unit 9)

Preventing exposure to high concentrations of H2S from manure pits requires stringent controls. General safety measures include constructing manure pits outside of the confinement building, constructing openings so that lids or other objects cannot fall into the pit requiring a worker to enter the pit for retrieval, and erecting safety guards and warning signs. Whenever a pit that is under a confinement house is being agitated, people should stay out of the building, ventilation of the house should be maximized, and animals should be removed or observed from outside the building.

Even when not being agitated, manure pits can seldom be entered safely. If entrance is imperative, only a self-contained breathing apparatus, worn by an individual trained in its use, will provide adequate protection. All operators should understand that high concentrations of H2S cannot be smelled and that H2S above 1000 ppm produces unconsciousness in only one to three breaths.