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Boy Overcome by Slurry Pit Fumes Dies in Hospital

A young boy who was overcome by slurry pit fumes on a farm in County Antrim has died in hospital after emergency services failed to revive him.

Robert Christie (8) from Donloy in County Antrim is believed to have been overcome by slurry pit fumes as he helped his father mix slurry on a neighbour´s farm. Both he and his father – Bertie Christie – were found on Saturday afternoon by a postman delivering mail to the address, and an ambulance was called immediately.

Robert was airlifted to Belfast´s Royal Victoria Hospital but doctors were unable to save his life, while Bertie Christie was taken by ambulance to the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine, where his condition remains in critical condition.

On request of the family, the police have not released details of how Robert was exposed to the deadly slurry pit fumes, but an explanation of how such deadly accident can occur was offered by the Deputy President of the Ulster Farmers Union, Barclay Bell.

Mr Bell explained that slurry pits at this time of the year often contain the waste materials of animals that have been kept indoors over the winter. The slurry is used as a fertiliser on farms, but before being able to use it, it has to be agitated so that it can be spread.

However, while the slurry has been resting since the winter a lethal combination of gasses develops – most noticeably hydrogen sulphide – and during the agitation process, the fumes of these lethal gases are released.

It is difficult to know when the lethal fumes have dispersed because they have no smell and, as the gasses which produce the fumes are heavier than air, they tend to stay low to the ground – potentially explaining how Robert suffered a fatal injury when being overcome by the slurry pit fumes and his father did not.

Northern Ireland´s Health and Safety Executive are already investigating the accident and the organization´s Chief Executive -Keith Morrison – said: “Incidents like this show starkly the dangers which our farming communities face and my heart goes out to those affected by this tragic accident”.