It was a situation that was both puzzling and upsetting. Something had caused the death of not only a large amount of cattle but also a farmer, too. Yet eventually the coroner realized what had caused the mysterious disaster and finally gave closure to the victim’s family.
The victim in question was 29-year-old Michael Biadasz, a resident of Wisconsin who worked his father’s farm – and Biadasz’s job was also one of his greatest passions. He was always an enthusiastic outdoorsman, in fact, going as far as to study farming and agriculture in college.
The experience paid off, too. Biadasz became a practiced farmer who combined his work life with his other great love: his family. Indeed, he found a place helping out his father, Robert “Bob” Biadasz, on his dairy farm, and Robert said his son would “morning to night farm.”
But tragically, it was while he was farming that Biadasz passed away. On Monday August 15, 2016, his body was discovered on the family farm by his colleagues. And it seemed that he had died at the manure pit.
Manure pits are a necessity on a dairy farm, since cows produce so much waste. The manure is stored in a large tank temporarily until it can be spread on fields as fertilizer. So, with Biadasz a farmer, it was something that he was no stranger to.
The farm’s manure tank was a large one – roughly football field-sized – yet Biadasz was just there as part of his normal routine. His body was subsequently discovered when the other farmhands arrived later that morning to help out with the chore. But he wasn’t the only fatality that day.
Yes, the mystery deepened when the workers found numerous dead cows on the farm. In March 2017 news website America Now reported that 16 cows in total had perished.
What’s more, there didn’t seem to be an obvious cause of death for either Biadasz or the cattle. So, an investigation was required, and that job fell to Scott Rifleman, Portage County Coroner. Perhaps he could piece together the shocking events and bring the Biadasz family some closure.
An investigation was subsequently launched to look into the deaths on the farm, and the results were conclusive. It turned out that Biadasz had been poisoned while he was cleaning out the manure tank. And the source of the poison was actually natural, if highly unusual: the manure itself.
Manure can contain four lethal gases: hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, methane and ammonia. What’s more, in certain circumstances they can prove to be a deadly combination, especially in enclosed areas. Indeed, the CDC has even issued an alert to warn of the dangers that manure can pose.
The manure pit on Biadasz Farms, though, was out in the open. Furthermore, Biadasz had cleaned out the tank hundreds of times in the past without incident. And yet somehow, either methane or sulfur poisoning had inexplicably claimed lives on the family farm.
“This is the first [case] I’ve handled that’s been open air like this,” Rifleman told the Daily News in August 2016. “I’ve handled a number of similar deaths but they have all been contained in confined, closed spaces. The concerning factor is that this was in an open air pit.”
Surprisingly, the answer lay in the weather conditions that prevailed on the morning Biadasz went out to the tank. “There was no wind,” Rifleman said. “It was a quiet, foggy, dewy morning, and there was also an upper air inversion.” And that proved to be a deadly combination.
In August 2016 Bob Biadasz spoke to WAOW news about his son’s passing. “When he broke up that hard crust, basically the methane or sulfur dioxide came out of the manure,” he explained. “[It] was sitting there because there was a heavy fog mass.”
“[The gasses] typically would go up in the air and dissipate.” With the weather conditions being what they were, though, a freak accident occurred. And the results were what experts have called a “deadly dome of air” that trapped the poisonous fumes.
“It was the perfect disastrous storm to happen,” Bob Biadasz continued. “It was a matter of seconds. [The gas] was tasteless, odorless, and he was gone. Just like that.” Naturally, the family were heartbroken over the loss, which was as sudden as it was inescapable.
“The family is devastated, absolutely devastated,” Rifleman told WAOW. “This was just a tragic series of events that occurred. It’s just a fluke.” Biadasz’s passing was also marked by parking a line of farming equipment along the side of the Biadasz Farms grounds. Among them was Michael’s own black truck.
Instead of paying a floral tribute to their son, the Biadasz family wanted Michael’s death to mean something. “Farming is one of the hardest, most under-paid and dangerous professions,” they wrote on Facebook. “In Mike’s memory, his family has set up a Farm Safety and Education Memorial.”
“Mike had a heart of gold, with a one of a kind passion and love for farming,” the tribute continued. “[He] was devoted and proud to work the long, hard hours so he could help feed the world.” His father also opened his heart to WAOW.
“Any father’s dream is to have a son like him,” he said. “And to lose him to something foolish like this is tough. I was a very fortunate father to have a son of Mike’s magnitude, to work with and to love.” Michael Biadasz will always be remembered, and hopefully lives will be saved after lessons have been learned from his tragic fate.