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Amherst family hopes gift prevents manure pit deaths

posted: July 31. 2017 09:16a CST
by / Sara Bredesen, Regional Editor | sara.bredesen@ecpc.com

MARSHFIELD — An Amherst farm family hopes that a $40,000 gift to the National Farm Medicine Center and the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach will help prevent the kind of tragedy that struck them last summer.

In August 2016, Mike Biadasz, 29, went to check the agitator on the farm’s manure pit and was overcome by toxic hydrogen sulfide gas. He was later found dead.

The gift from the Mike Biadasz Farm Safety and Education Memorial Fund will help implement a gas monitor rental rebate program to “ensure that farmers can come home safe and whole to their families after doing their dangerous and vital work,” said Matt Faber, gift officer with the Marshfield Clinic Foundation, at a presentation program July 28 in Marshfield.

Mike’s father, Bob Biadasz, said from the time he and Mike talked about putting a manure pit on their beef operation to the time of his son’s death, they never heard about the dangers of manure gas from open pits. He said the day his son died was a perfect storm of warm weather, overcast skies, no wind, and fog that trapped gases near the ground.

Mike’s sister, Lisa Grezenski, said after the tragedy, the family began investigating manure pit gas deaths and found another case in 2012 in Pennsylvania, where two young children were overcome by gas while playing near the pit.

“It hurt us knowing that back in 2012 this happened and not finding out about it until (2016),” she said. “Just because Mike had an over-dome gas situation, hydrogen sulfide is still very present in open manure pits, and that’s what we want to share and why we’re offering this monitor rebate program, because we don’t want this tragedy to happen to somebody else.”

Dr. Casper Bendixen with the NFMC said farm workers are seven to eight times more likely to die on the job than most other professions, including dangerous ones like mining, construction and transportation.

“Moreover, farms are not just work sites, they’re home sites, and that means we have non-working bystanders. Children on our farms are also at risk. Over 100 children die in ag-related accidents every year,” Bendixen said. “These sad statistics are why the National Farm Medicine Center was created in the 1980s as a research department here in the clinic, and it is why the National Farm Center has been home to the National Children’s Center for Ag and Rural Safety for nearly 20 years.”

No matter how much enthusiasm the center has for protecting farmers, nothing matches a farm family taking a stand for safety, he said.

“Many farm families react with stoic silence in the wake of tragedy. I think that’s how many of us would react,” Bendixen said. “Mike’s family has chosen a different route … so that others may live. It’s not just about funding a program — which is fantastic — it’s about telling Mike’s story and farmers looking out for other farmers.”

Biadasz said the program will offer some sort of rebate for purchase of gas monitors, but there is a lot of expense in getting them calibrated four times a year. He said the rental program is a way to get the units into farmers’ hands at a reasonable cost so they can learn how they work and get used to them before making an investment. They will come precalibrated. 

Bendixen said state and federal funding is not always available, so philanthropy is critical to reaching a community with meaningful inventions like the gas monitors. He announced that a portion of funds raised at this year’s Auction of Champions will supplement the Mike Biadasz Memorial Fund. The auction is a black-tie event to be held Sept. 21 at the RiverEdge Golf Course in Marshfield.

Specifics on the gas monitor rebate program will be released soon.

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