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Deaths of Farmworkers in Cow Manure Ponds Put Oversight of Dairy Farms Into Question

JEROME, Idaho — Alberto Navarro Munoz had been working on the farm for only two weeks when he encountered one of the most gruesome hazards that a dairy worker can face. His tractor tipped over into a pit of cow manure, submerging the Mexican native under several feet of a “loose thick somewhat liquid-like substance,” according to the police report documenting his death in southern Idaho.

Another immigrant laborer jumped in to try to save Munoz, but told authorities “there was nothing he could do.” Munoz, whose body was later retrieved by the fire department, died of traumatic asphyxiation.

Munoz’s death, which occurred in the nearby town of Shelley last September, was one of two fatal accidents last year involving dairymen who either choked or drowned in pits of cow manure. Another laborer from Mexico died last month after he was crushed by a skid loader, used to move feed and manure.

The deaths have rattled Idaho’s dairy industry as well as local immigrant communities that do the bulk of the work producing nearly 15 billion pounds of milk annually on the industrial-sized farms in the state’s southern prairie. As farms have transitioned from family operations into big businesses involving thousands of cows and massive machinery, new safety concerns have emerged.

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