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Caution! Silo gas and nitrate poisoning

Rain events across the province have interrupted a dry spring. While the water is welcome, the 5-7 days after a rain that ends a severe dry period increases the risk of nitrates in forage crops! Nitrates are of concern because they can increase silo gas production and cause nitrate poisoning in livestock.

Silo Gas

Silo gas (nitrogen dioxide, N2O) is produced almost immediately after filling a silo. It has a bleach-like odour and may be visible as a reddish-brown haze. However, it is not always visible. Nitrogen dioxide is heavier than air, therefore it tends to be located just above the silage surface and on the ground around the silo. It may flow down silo chutes and into feed rooms. Tower silos are at greater risk because the silo gas is contained at the silage surface level, and operators often enter the silo after filling to level silage and set up the unloader. It is difficult to predict when silo gas will be produced, so always take precautions following harvest.

People exposed to silo gas are at risk of severe respiratory distress, permanent damage to lungs, and even sudden death. When inhaled, nitrogen dioxide mixes with body moisture to form nitric acid which causes severe burning of the lungs and the rest of the respiratory system. Pulmonary edema results. Victims often collapse. Other people attempting a rescue can also be overcome. People exposed to silo gas should get immediate medical attention.

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