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Caution !
Hazards and risks in compost handling.

Partha's can of worms || and more...

Warning, Disclaimer

The author of this website is NOT a specialist in pathology, or microbiology etc. He is only a hobbyist in organic composting and vermiculture (in fact, he is an engineer who loves teaching mathematics). The guidelines given here are only to sensitise you on the possible risks in handling or working with compost. There may be many more risks involved. Play safe.

The brighter side

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drpartha@gmail.com

Your mileage may vary. Health concerns relating to compost are dependent both on the individual and on the material being composted. Just as individuals vary in their resistance to disease, a few individuals may be particularly sensitive to some of the organisms in compost. Conditions that may predispose individuals to infection or an allergic response include: a weakened immune system, allergies, asthma, some medications such as antibiotics and adrenal cortical hormones, or a punctured eardrum. People with these conditions should avoid turning compost piles, or take precautions to minimize exposure. Health concerns relating to compost are dependent both on the individual and on the material being composted. Consult a medical specialist.

Dog and cat manures can contain harmful pathogens and should be avoided. Animal faeces usually contains a virulent pathogen called pseudomonas aeruginosa.

While few human pathogenic organisms are found in vegetative wastes, normal sanitary measures (i.e., washing hands before touching food, eyes, etc.) are important. Although most people are unlikely to have any problems, there are a few concerns which place some individuals at risk. To minimize these potential risks, common OSHA approved dust masks can be worn under dry and dusty conditions, especially when the compost is being turned. A generous spray of water, on your compost pile, before raking it or turning it, can prevent dust flying off, and can also reduce the chances of a spontaneous fire.

The high populations of many different species of molds and fungi in an active compost process can cause allergic responses in some people, though most others experience no adverse reaction. One of these fungal species, Aspergillus fumigatus, can infect the respiratory system of a sensitive person who is heavily exposed. A keen gardener in UK died after contracting a rare lung infection from the compost he spread on his garden. From what his partner described, he had been surrounded by a cloud of dust when he opened several bags of compost that he had prepared from his garden to use. The patient died from complications related to aspergillosis, a disease caused by spores of Aspergillus fumigatus, a fungus which grows on dead plant or animal material. Blood samples tested after his death later confirmed the diagnosis of aspergillosis. This fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, is also encountered very commonly in our routine lives. It is the bluish-green wooly/cottony growth on stale bread, over- ripe papaya, or over rotting oranges. There are other fungi of the aspergillus family, commonly found in rotting foodstuff: a deep green growth is Aspergillus flavus, and a black growth is Aspergillus niger.

Wear a face mask if you are handling large volumes of packaged compost. Turning of compost piles is what releases most of the airborne particles and gases that can cause symptoms in some people. So, if a pile is turned, be aware of the wind direction and of the susceptibility of those nearby and those doing the turning.

If you have open cuts, or bruises, it is not a good idea to work with compost. The wounds may get infected easily. Take rest, till your wounds heal.

Wearing gloves while handling compost, can dramatically reduce your chances of infection. Wash your hands well, with an antiseptic soap, after you handle compost with your hands.

There is another reason why wearing gloves and protective goggles, and face masks, is a good idea. Sometimes, compost piles are homes to many crawling insects, hopping and flying insects, flies and bees. You may occasionally get stung or bitten by any of these villains, when you disturb their habitat. You also dont want irritating dust, or tiny insects, to fly into your eyes. Protective masks, gloves, goggles will help you escape many such nasty surprises.

Keep your kids, and toddlers, away from the compost pile (or compost pit).

There is also another aspect of safety with composts. Large heaps of compost, especially when dry, are prone to catch fire easily. This is particularly true when handling composts in large quantities, on an industrial scale. Play safe, avoid smoking while working on compost. Make sure that there are no loose or frayed electric wires passing nearby. They could cause a short-circuit and trigger a major fire, or could even give you a nasty shock when you touch the compost pile. The composting process generates a lot of heat. Composting also creates combustible gases. So, that innocent looking compost pile could actually be a volcano. Watch out !

The brighter side

There is a certain amount of risk in all forms of human activity, including composting. Let the risks described above, not discourage you from composting, vermiculture, and organic farming. Just be careful, and take precautions. The benefits of using compost, far exceed the risks involved. So, do not turn away from your composting activities. Just a little care can help you avoid a lot of trouble.


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Last updated : 2015-02-20
WWW-URL : http://drpartha.org.in/drgarden/hasards.htm
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