Illustration for article titled Poop Foam Causes Massive Explosions

As if anyone needed another reason to stay away from pig pens, pig farms have been exploding. The culprit is a highly-explosive form of gray mush that turns up, from time to time, in ditches full of pig poop. And this gray mush seems to be entirely new.

Those of you whose closest encounters with pigs consist of morning bacon may not realize what a hazard the bacon source creates for those who farm it. Not only can pigs grow big, and get quite aggressive, they're now crapping explosives. Hog farms have, occasionally, started blowing up. The source of these explosions is a strange substance known as gray foam.

Pigs have several uses during their life – their manure can be useful as fertilizer. And so, under hog pens in barns, there are generally huge pits. The pigs excrete like it's their job, and the manure falls or gets swept down into the pits. The bacteria break it down into slop that can be sold, or just buried deeper.

Until it comes foaming up. Since 2009, expanding layers of gray foam have started bubbling on the surface of the manure piles. The foam pulsates with bubbles, some of which seep up from the decomposing manure below, and some of which are created by the microbial life inside the gray foam itself. Few people have been able, or willing, to study the foam, since it has a habit of leaking hydrogen sulfide into the atmosphere. There's also some methane leaking up – enough to have caused a half dozen explosions on pig farms when some spark, or the internal warmth from the decomposing poop, ignited the gases.

Although the foam can be kept down by adding antibiotics to the pits of manure, a better solution would be finding out what causes it in the first place. Some think that the diet the pigs get – including a high percentage of corn mush leftover from alcohol distilleries – might be the cause of the new composition.


Which raises the question – if humans ate mostly corn mush and pooped into a hole for years, would they be able to make gray foam? Who is going to be brave enough to volunteer for the experiment?

Image: Scott Bauer, USDA

[Via Mysterious Poop Foam Causes Explosions on Hog Farms, Manure, Foam, Methane, Fire, Explosions and Safety.]


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