Our thoughts go out to this Wyoming dairy farm after hearing about this tragic accident involving methane gas Tuesday morning. According to the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department, an employee at the Burnett Dairy Farm near Carpenter was killed when he fell into a well on the property and succumbed to methane fumes at the bottom of the well.
Fifty-two years old Erasmo Baeza Gonzalez, along with one of the business owners and two electrical contractors, entered a well house to make repairs when the employee fell down the well shaft into several feet of standing water. Methane fumes quickly overcame the man and he went under the water. The other three men attempted to rescue him but were unsuccessful due to the toxic fumes.
The employee’s body was recovered and the three men injured by the fumes were transported to the hospital in Cheyenne. OSHA was notified and will be investigating the incident.
According to the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health, methane cannot be smelled, but can be released in manure pits in concentrations that are combustible. When methane concentrations are between 5 percent (50,000 ppm) and 15 percent (150,000 ppm) there is a risk of reduced oxygen in the air: for every increased 4 percent of methane, the percent oxygen decreases by approximately 1 percent. When oxygen levels reduce from 20.9 to 19.5 percent (at sea level), people will not have enough oxygen. In oxygen-deficient atmospheres, a worker’s pulse and breathing rate may increase and they may begin to feel nauseous. Impaired thinking, reduced coordination, and fatigue develop, and workers may faint, leading to death.