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Home - Safety of Composting Euthanized Animals as a Means of Disposal

Joshua Payne, Oklahoma State University, and Mary Schwarz, Cornell Waste Management Institute, will speak on the topic of composting euthanized animals (in separate sessions) at the 2012 Symposium.

Composting of mortalities has been performed successfully to reduce pathogen levels, nutrient release, and biosecurity risks. Properly built mortality compost piles deter scavenging by wildlife and other animals and accommodate mortality in routine and mass casualty situations. However, improper disposal of carcasses containing veterinary drugs has resulted in the death of domestic animals and wildlife from direct feeding on improperly disposed livestock in which little or no degradation or biotransformation of the drug has occurred. Because of this, in 2003, the US Food and Drug Administration added an environmental warning to animal euthanasia products stating that “euthanized animals must be properly disposed of by deep burial, incineration, or other method in compliance with state and local laws, to prevent consumption of carcass material by scavenging wildlife.” As deep burial does not kill pathogens and brings the carcass and its leachate closer to the water table, and incineration is inefficient and environmentally adverse, composting of mortalities should be considered an “other method.” However, the fate of the euthanasia drug sodium pentobarbital in the carcass compost pile has not been fully documented. There is concern that it may not degrade and will persist in compost or leachate, causing threats to the environment, wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.

Research conducted by Cornell Waste Management Institute at Cornell University and by Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service at Oklahoma State University on the fate of pentobarbital in animal tissue, compost, leachate, and soil from euthanized horses disposed of through composting will be presented at the Symposium. Composting of carcasses creates sufficient heat during the time in which the carcass would be the most desirable to domestic and wild animals to deter them from digging in to the pile to feed on the carcass. In addition, when covered properly, the smell of decomposing flesh is minimized, which also deters attraction. The diverse community of microorganisms in the compost pile may aid in the degradation and/or biotransformation of pentobarbital, especially after the thermophilic phase of composting is completed.


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