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dangers of composting

Posted by west9491 6 (My Page) on
Sun, Mar 16, 08 at 16:05

i wash my hands everytime i deal w/ my pile, how can compost be hazardous to your health? i know you're dealing w/ a lot of fungus and bacteria.

can hot compost still be dangerous, if you didn't wash your hands n stuff?


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: dangers of composting

The washing of hands should be done every time they are dirty. Sorry about that. Actually we don't always know what is in the compost, like who knows, what tree rats or neighbours cats may have left in there after you last handled it. I use gloves when I handle compost. This is the only time, gardening, that I do. Gathering, preparing,making, and spreading. After a few days, on or in the soil, I feel it is safer, for bare hands. [Disclaimer I may be wrong]

no matter what though, compost is where its at.
Bryan


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RE: dangers of composting

Hot compost has been known to start fires. If people aren't dealing properly with their compost, it can self ignite. If the compost is located against a wooden fence, a garage, or some structure, a fire could result.

There can be mold and fungal spores in compost. When turning compost one could breath in spores, which could result in lung infection. Some folks wear respirators when turning compost. I hold my breath.

Leather gloves are necessary protection for the hands whilst gardening. Proper shoes are necessary to prevent accidental injury to the feet when using large, sharp, metal gardening tools.

Lorna


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RE: dangers of composting

i was wondrin bout the fire thing.......so could that happen if it wasn't next to a structure, like if a lone standing pile that was very warm started to dry out?


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RE: dangers of composting

There is a potential of contacting pathogens any place in the garden, not just compost but also soil, so proper hand washing, good hygene, is just plain common sense. There are bacteria all around, and in us. We need bacteria to function, to digest the food we eat, to protect us from disease pathogens and not all bacteria are bad, as some of the ads today seem to imply.
Any organic matter, if all the right conditions are there, can spontaneously ignite, so yes due care in locating where a compost pile is should be considered. A compost pile should not be located next to your house, for example, and there are many other good, valid reasons beside the fire issue for not doing that. There are some that would dispute that compost piles would spontaneously combust because they have not seen that happen, even though there have been several news stories of just such things happening over the last 10 years.


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RE: dangers of composting

Turning compost, and keeping it damp, mitigate the possibility of compost self-igniting.

Lorna


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RE: dangers of composting

I use breathing protection every time I work with the compost pile because the tiny particles can cling to hair and clothing and can still get into your lungs. A couple times I didn't use a mask, I coughed for days afterwards. Cheryl


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RE: dangers of composting

Having composted and gardened for 30 years, I think the biggest health risk is paryonychia, a throbbing local infection of the tissues around the fingernail. Wearing wet, dirty gloves is worse than wearing none at all, so I have a box of 'em by the door, and some latex exam gloves for tedious weeding. Not that I don't get my hands dirty! When the growing season really gets going, I don't think my hands are ever completely clean.

Here is a link that might be useful: my website


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RE: dangers of composting

my aunt got a nasty infection in her face that started rotting her face off, they almost couldn't cure it and never seen it before. From a bag of purchased compost.


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RE: dangers of composting

This seemed like the stuff of urban legend to me so I looked it up. From the University of Minesota: "Questions sometimes arise about spontaneous combustion in compost piles. Spontaneous combustion is the occurrence of fire without the application of an external heat source and can be caused by chemical, biological, or physical processes. Organic material can ignite spontaneously due to biological activity at moisture contents between 26-46% moisture if the temperature exceeds 200 degrees F. These high temperatures only occur with restricted air flow and piles exceeding a height of seven feet. Spontaneous combustion happens to stored hay or silage and only in rare cases to compost. No documented cases of spontaneous combustion have been reported for compost piles smaller than seven feet. Most reported fires occurring in compost piles are the result of external sources such as matches or the addition of hot ashes. In short, a well maintained compost pile with temperatures less than 150 degrees F will not spontaneously combust. If a compost pile gets too hot--more than 160 degrees F--you can cool it down by 1) reducing the size of the pile; 2) adding water to 55% moisture; or 3) mixing in coarse, bulky material such as wood chips. Compost piles work best at temperatures between 130-150 degrees F."
So, how many of you have a compost pile in excess of 7 feet? Link to the full article attached.

Here is a link that might be useful: composting


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RE: dangers of composting

Thank you, lamalu.

Spontaneous combustion of home-gardener's sized compost piles is a myth. If you are using a tractor to turn it, that's different.

However, I think you should always wear gloves when handling compost or soil. Compost and healthy soil is full of micro-critters which can cause nasty infections.


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RE: dangers of composting

wow....i've been composting for over 30 years and after reading all this i feel lucky i haven't burn't my house down or died from some wierd disease.


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RE: dangers of composting

you might want to repost that interesting tidbit in the soil lawn forum if you haven't alreayd, there's a big discussion on it right now.


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RE: dangers of composting

  • Posted by dicot Los Angeles (My Page) on
    Wed, Mar 19, 08 at 2:39

I wish I could find the old LA Times article about Zeek the Sheik and his Ladder of Matter. Pretty crazy guy out in Altadena (adjacent to Pasadena) who had compost piles 10 feet high that caught on fire when he left town to visit his son for 3 days. It took the fire department all day to put it out. It was adjacent to a cemetary and they were not at all amused.

He had about 25 ducks and chickens eating all sorts of scraps and he had a little Kubota to turn it and he spent every day watering trying to prevent a re-ignition. About a year after it happened, my friend starting visiting him regularly and took me out there. The heat off his piles was so intense it was hard to even stand near them. He really was too crazy to function in society, a white guy in a ratty turban talking to himself in rhyme that would have put most rappers to shame, but he should have been employed by the city to run their compost program because he was a master. I used some of his soil and it was black gold.


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RE: dangers of composting

I compost and garden. I never wear gloves because I hate the way they feel. I even prune thorny things without them. I then take my thorn poked hands and work the compost pile and the garden dirt.

Never had a problem.

I also maintain a salt water reef tank and read about how I should be wearing gloves due to all the bacteria in the water as well as the toxins released by the corals. I just do the bear handed thing.

Perhaps I am just lucky or perhaps all the scare stories about gardening (and reef tank raising) are simply so unlikely (though possible) they aren't worth thinking about.

For the record I also sit outside with an umbrella and a can of beer when we get major thunder/lightning storms. Never been hit by lightning nor swept away by a tornado (though I was lifted off my feet once).
I prefer to live and enjoy life rather than worry about it. That's just me though.


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RE: dangers of composting

Compost can start fires. IT IS DOCUMENTED. Do your homework. One published article is proof of nothing.

The quoted Michigan piece contradicts itself. To wit, "No documented cases of spontaneous combustion have been reported for compost piles smaller than seven feet. Most reported fires occurring in compost piles are the result of external sources such as matches or the addition of hot ashes. In short, a well maintained compost pile with temperatures less than 150 degrees F will not spontaneously combust. If a compost pile gets too hot--more than 160 degrees F--you can cool it down by 1) reducing the size of the pile; 2) adding water to 55% moisture; or 3) mixing in coarse, bulky material such as wood chips."

It says "MOST REPORTED...are the result of external sources...a WELL-MAINTAINED compost pile with temperatures less than 150 degrees F will not spontaneously combust." Does one therefore deduce that an ill-maintained compost pile with temperatures exceeding 150 will self-combust? Does this article presume that most people do not make compost piles larger than seven feet? "If a compost pile gets too hot--more than 160 degrees F--you can cool it down by 1) reducing the size of the pile; 2) adding water to 55% moisture..." Oh, so the article does conceded that compost piles can become hot enough to self-ignite.

A few years ago a man in Oakland, California had serious fire damage to his detached garage because his compost self-ignited. There was a lot of news coverage. His open compost pile was against a wall of his garage. That was obvious in the video tape taken, besides which the man was interviewed and he said he had not known better than to place the compost against a structure. The Fire Chief was interviewed. He said the compost pile started the fire. The story became a big public interest, public education story. I wonder why this incident was not reported to the U. of Michigan? During which years did they collect their data, and did they collect data from the entire US?

Yea, I've been cut by many a thorn, and I just bled the wound and kept on working. But I take lightening very seriously. It struck the telephone pole on my easement once when I was working on-line. The lightening came through the computer and knocked me back from the keyboard. My fingers and arms hurt for a little while, but I wasn't actually burned. It scrambled files and fried the modem. Luckily, I was able to fix the scrambled files myself, and I bought a separate modem, so the cost of the repair was minimal. Lightening tends to strike the tallest object, but this area doesn't have a lot of tall trees or poles--it is rural. A person walking in an open area could be struck by lightening.

When I was a kid, living in upstate NY, a man was killed during a thunder storm because he took shelter under a huge oak. Lightening struck the tree. The tree fell and crushed the man.
Lorna


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RE: dangers of composting

First off- it's Minnesota not Michigan. Do YOUR homework. Also it says that compost fires occur in piles over 7 feet. Are you trying to tell me that home gardeners make compost piles over 7 feet? And, there are plenty of other articles debuunking the myth - I just posted one of them.
Why are you so upset? You should be happy to have one less thing to worry about. I know I am. I'd love to believe that my horn worms will spontaneoualy combust. That would be cool.


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RE: dangers of composting

Combustable hornworms? I like that idea too. Probably could happen with a magnifying glass on a sunny day, or would that be cheating, using an external source to ignite the fire? Or would you have to start with a 7' pile of hornworms? Oh the possibilities! Cheryl


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RE: dangers of composting

I thought this was going to be a post about how you can become a compost whacko (going out at night to collect neighbor's bagged leaves, etc)if you get into composting.


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RE: dangers of composting

I found the biggest danger of composting is to write about it in here.


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RE: dangers of composting

oops hit wrong button.
When I was in here back a few years, just using compost in your name started a concern. We start sliding down a slippery slope with a thread on compost. Everybody has slightly differing ideas, but theirs are the right ones. but I say no matter what, just do it. Nature composts all the time. No one hauls fertilizers into the forest, and look at the crop that is growing there. The trees drop their leaves, animals defecate, and die there. This is all that happens there. If nothing is taken from the forest it will continue to grow bigger and taller crops. The forest even thins itself. Now and again some critter will take from the forest and remove energy, like a nut, but another will make a deposit from energies brought into the forest.
The big thing the forest does is make the ground friable, with the duff it puts down year after year,
This is what we do with our compost, make our soil friable. Friable means soil that can take in air, which has a lot of the N factor plants need. It means soil that can take rain, which has the N factor, and allow this rain to get down to the root level. At the root level with compost in the soil, the water soluble N factor can held against the roots, which then can take up the N, with water.
Although this is a good growing thing for crops, the bigger energies for crop growth come from the sun. The sun puts more energy, into the plants, though chemical proceedures than we can. We can get the sun's energies into our plants from composting plant remains.
The plants also mine the soil for basic minerals, required for healthy plants. Composting helps us put these minerals at root level, in a condition that plants can take in, so we benefit, in great plants.
So no matter, compost is where its at
Bryan


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RE: dangers of composting

Guess I gotta die sometime, from something! May as well be doing something I love. Maybe sometime i will self combust! TiMo


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RE: dangers of composting

bryan99, i think you've got that right. and i thought politics was dangerous.


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RE: dangers of composting

lamalu, believe what you wish to believe. Doing one's homework means reading all available material. Usually one can find an equal number of pros and cons on any given subject.

I've studied composting for many years, discussed it at length with gardeners, and written about it. I've been composting for ten years, both privately and as a member of a public garden community. I routinely check compost for heat. I've seen HOT compost a few times, too hot to touch.
Lorna


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RE: dangers of composting

I personally know someone who's house burned down from the spontaneous combustion of a slightly damp bag of alfalfa meal left on their wooden front porch. The source was confirmed by the fire investigator. So yes, it can happen and with any organic matter under a specific set of conditions. Fires from the spontaneous combustion of grains/grain dust in silos and mills is a huge concern with these types of operations. Is it very common?? Probably not, but it is NOT an urban myth.

I too have gardened and composted all my life - sometimes using gloves but most often not - and I've yet to encounter any major health issue from the process. I believe we tend to get a bit obsessed about diseases and bacteria. IMO, a little dirt is healthy and exposure to organisms that inhabit it in all its forms increases one's resistance.


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RE: dangers of composting

I too wonder if a little dirt isn't healthy. I'm an elementary school teacher and over the years I have noticed that farm kids or kids who come to school looking a little grubby are usually the ones who are sick the least often. Perhaps you're right, garden gal, exposure helps build up stronger resistance.


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RE: dangers of composting

Hey justaguy, my grandfather was struck by lightning a few years ago. It happened when he was out golfing in Texas, and he decided to take his time getting to shelter while walking under an umbrella. It was a direct hit, but he survived, and he says he doesnt recommend the experience.

Your immune system sounds mega healthy, by the way. Mines the same way. But not everyone has an immune system that can handle regular exposure to pathogens, or a constitution that can withstand lightning.


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RE: dangers of composting

Actually, Lorna, I was giving your myth the benefit of the doubt. The other articles I read said that compost piles over 12' were in danger of spontaneous combustion and discussed it as a concern of municipalities - not home gardeners. How gracious of you to give me permission to believe what I wish but that was really not yours to give.


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RE: dangers of composting

Hi all,

Not a danger but a benefit. Common soil microbe improves mood. Check it out:

Here is a link that might be useful: Soil microbe's effect on mood in mice and men.


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