This day and age, it seems that nearly everyone is taking some steps, large or small, toward becoming environmentally friendly or “eco-conscious.” Businesses that operate on a variety of scales are figuring out new ways to recycle, reduce, and reuse waste or byproducts from their facilities. But brewers have been doing this for quite some time.

Peering back into the days of early brewing history, it’s no surprise that many brewers were also farmers, and were able to use their resources to the fullest extent for their purposes – be it cheese, meat, beer, bread, you name it. Breweries have been tapping into this agricultural spirit by offering up their spent grain as livestock feed to local farmers, one way of recycling and keeping things local. But there is a safety and health concern that should be addressed regarding spent grain and farm waste.

On July 2, 2007, four family members and a hired farmhand were killed on a dairy farm in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley due to asphyxiation in a manure pit. Covered pits for animal waste are common for smaller farms, which are often times at a technological disadvantage in comparison with their larger, industrial farm counterparts. The cause of the deaths was related to the accumulation of hydrogen sulfide, a compound released from this waste that can collect in the manure pits. However, as the investigation of the accident discovered, the concentration had been accelerated by spent brewer’s grain.

It appears that a delivery of spent grain had been unloaded onto the manure pit cover, and rain had washed some of the sugars, gypsum, and organic materials from the spent grain into the pit. While hydrogen sulfide is already found in animal waste, it is believed the combination of the spent grain run-off and manure caused this deadly compound to be produced at a high enough rate that exposure led to immediate asphyxiation. The farm workers had been trying to dislodge a blockage in a transfer pipe, and while this had happened before without incident, this particular time it proved to be deadly.

While the practice of feeding livestock spent grain may be in question due to animal dietary concerns, it is still important to spread the word about its storage. If you happen to know anyone that owns a farm and receives spent grain as feed, or already offer it to local farmers yourself, be sure to handle delivery with care or give proper storage instruction to avoid these kinds of tragedies. Also, check out Chris O’Brien’s blog for more environmentally friendly ways to process and use spent grain.

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