Cleaning up a spill

Those who attended the North American Manure Expo recently in Chambersburg, PA, had a unique opportunity to learn about an important topic they hope will never happen. Robb Meinen, Penn State, and Jerry Clark, University of Wisconsin, tag-teamed to present a real-time scenario on how to manage a manure spill.

“It isn’t illegal to have an accident, but how you prepare and respond to the accident can help prevent environmental pollution,” said Meinen. “Always try to act in a manner that serves us agronomically and economically. We want to keep manure where we place it and prevent it from leaving the field edge.”

The first step for spill management is a sound emergency response plan. “The emergency plan deals with employees, facility, application equipment,” said Clark. “A spill response plan is part of the emergency response plan.” All employees should receive spill response training.

An important aspect of the response plan is maintaining an up-to-date list with information about who to call for clean-up help. Contacts, depending on the state, should include the landowner (if different from the applicator), a professional manure manager, land conservation, department of natural resources and emergency personnel such as fire and police for traffic control. Know the physical address of any property where manure is being spread and be able to explain the manure description (species, liquid or solid), quantity involved and location.

Another list should include contact information for auxiliary help such as an excavator who can bring a skid steer and/or backhoe to build a berm to catch manure and a vacuum truck to pump manure back to a holding tank. Know who can provide tillage equipment such as a disc or chisel plow to run across the face of the spill to slow the flow of manure and buy time before the spill reaches a culvert or water source. In some cases, the farm on which manure is being spread can supply equipment, but there should be more than one source for each type of equipment.

Know where to find resources such as plywood, waste feed or hay bales that can be quickly delivered to the spill site and used to stop flow or soak up manure to prevent further movement. Keep the list of spill management procedures in all vehicles involved with manure application. Any tractors or self-propelled application equipment associated with manure handling should be equipped with shovels as well as safety flags, safety triangles and flares to place on roadways.

Spill response training can begin with explaining what can go wrong, starting with the manure hauler’s plan. “You don’t just show up and start hauling manure,” said Clark. “There’s a plan in place. What’s the route, where are we making turns, how do we get to the field? Is it a state highway, a county or a town road?” He suggested hosting a training session at least once a year to review the entire plan.

Cleaning up a spill

A manure spill response team attempts to slow the flow of liquid manure by digging into the soil. Photo by Sally Colby

Prior to unleashing liquid dairy manure for the intentional spill on the hillside of a recently harvested wheat field, Meinen and Clark contacted the appropriate agencies to inform them of the demonstration. This is also the first step for those involved in dealing with an emergency manure spill.

After the manure was released, the natural slope resulted in manure flowing quickly down the hill. For demonstration purposes, Meinen and Clark had already placed two pipes representing tile inlets, created a dam to stop the flow, dug a ditch to collect liquid manure that made it past the initial stoppage efforts and had a skid steer on standby to create a deeper collection basin.

“The first step is to control the spill and stop the application,” said Clark. “If it’s a rollover in the field or on a road, safety for employees is number one.” He added that if the spill occurs on any road, the applicator should immediately contact the appropriate first response team (police, fire) to prevent traffic from entering the area. “If it’s a release of manure and starting to move off the field,” he said, “stop the application and then it can be controlled.”

Once the manure handling equipment is safely turned off and people are safe, immediate action should include the use of shovels to move manure into the soil and prevent further sheet movement on a hillside. “Once you have control and the flow is stopped, contact a supervisor,” said Clark. “Then you can begin the cleanup.”

Clark said while the operator is waiting for help, additional measures can be as simple as cutting the mud flap from a truck to place in front of a pipe to prevent flow or placement of absorbent material such as waste feed or hay. These measures may not stop the flow completely but they buy time and allow larger equipment to move in to create dams and ditches.

Document every step done to manage the spill. “If you have a spill or release, show you’re making an attempt to stop it or clean it up,” said Clark. “The worst thing you can do is try to hide it – someone will turn you in. It’s a public image thing, and as a custom applicator or farmer, you’re in the public eye.” Clark also advised taking photos to document each step of the cleanup, which can help show what was done in the case of potential litigation.

Clark demonstrated how to use an item that’s common on every farm to protect underground water. “If there’s a tile line inlet on the land,” he said, “something as simple as a five-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out and placed over the inlet works well to protect it.”

A makeshift plywood culvert can help slow or stop manure flow. Depending on manure flow, a last-ditch effort is dam construction with a skid steer or other suitable equipment. If manure continues to flow after initial efforts, create a collection ditch below the dam to hold manure until it can be pumped out.

Diverting manure flow means it may go elsewhere, so be prepared to watch the flow and alter the plan as necessary. There’s nothing predictable about a manure spill, so preparing for any outcome is the best management practice.

by Sally Colby

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