Silo Gas Alert
Albany, September 28 -- Harvesting of corn and hay for silage is now in full swing and the State Departments of Health and Agriculture and Markets are warning New York State farmers about the hazards of exposure to potentially deadly "silo gas", which is produced by fresh silage.
State Health Commissioner Barbara A. DeBuono, M.D., said that her department already has received one report from the Rochester area about several members of a farm family developing respiratory distress after working in a silo where newly-harvested silage had been stored for only three days. All three farm workers required hospitalization. Another farmer from Lewis County also was hospitalized last week and remains in intensive care.
Richard T. McGuire, State Agriculture and Markets Commissioner, noted that each year farmers die after being overcome by nitrogen dioxide (known as "silo gas"), which rapidly accumulates in upright or bunker silos or in "ag-bags". He said the problem could be particularly acute this harvest season because of the Northeast's extremely dry growing season, since silage harvested after prolonged periods of dry weather tends to produce higher than normal levels of nitrogen dioxide.
For optimum protection farmers are advised to stay out of upright silos for three to four weeks after filling. No one should enter a silo unless the blower is running and there is adequate ventilation. Respirator masks offer no protection from silo gas inhalation. All family members, livestock and pets should be kept away from areas where silo gas may collect. Nitrogen dioxide is heavier than air and can accumulate in low areas around the silo where people and livestock may be readily exposed. The gas can have a yellowish orange or brown color but even concentrations too low to be seen may be harmful.
When silo gas is inhaled, it dissolves in the moisture of the lungs to form nitric acid. The acid burns the lungs, causing them to fill quickly with fluid. The results are often fatal.
Dr. DeBuono said that any farmer who experiences symptoms such as shortness of breath or coughing several hours after working with new silage should seek medical attention immediately. She noted that breathing in the gas for even a fairly brief period can produce a condition called "silo fillers disease", which develops several hours or days after exposure. This disease can cause fluid build-up in the lungs and in some cases, death.
Individuals who have questions about the potential health effects of nitrogen dioxide or the hazards of stored silage may contact their local Cooperative Extension office, the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health, or the New York State Department of Health at 1-800-458-1158, ext. 405.
9/28/95-105 OPAContact: Claudia Hutton, Director, Public Affairs (518) 474-7354
New York State Department of Health Posted: October 10, 1995