|compost windrow - wikipedia|
Evidence suggests that when the three went into a drainage ditch, that heavier-than-air gas hydrogen sulfide had gathered there from the decaying compost windrows, and sunk to the lowest point in a ditch. Employees went into the ditch for some reason, and were overcome by fumes... see Bakersfield Californian report, which interviews company, colleagues, and regulators. It appears a "Lake Nyos" accident, heavy air pushing out oxygen.
Death from compost would be exceedingly rare, though NIMBY interests generally oppose them as neighbors (due to odors). Allowing organic matter to gradually decompose seems about as passive a waste recycling activity as one could imagine. There are no "witches brews" of unnatural electronics circuit toxics involved... though the regulator quoted notes that a ditch is a "confined space". This is strictly organic recycling danger.
Too early to draw conclusions. But much of what I've focused on in this blog is how people make law and policy from a bad impression... photos trip a "cognitive risk" lobe in our brain, and environmentalists might forget that mob law and sanctimony (sancti-money) are not something we are immune to.
We see a computer being burned at a landfill in Ghana. We see a poor brown face. Rather than ask how long the PC had been in use in Ghana before it was dumped, whether the child would be more wealthy if exports are banned, or what percentage of used computers exported to Ghana work fine (85% according to the most significant research), digital divide programs bringing computers to Ghana must now compete against "safer" no-intact-unit shredding programs in the USA. Laws are promoted to remove our personal choice and judgement, and the laws are steered by shredder money and planned obsolescence.
Bad things happen. Bad things could happen to my operation, or to my partners overseas... or in my compost pile at home. Reacting with improvements is progress. We need careful debate and science, and should not be stampeded into "prohibition" by false information, exaggeration, or mob rule. Whatever the highest standard is for safety, reuse and recycling (R2 or E-Stewards), I must offer it as an option to our clients as a compliance option, and in Vermont, R2 is mandatory. And that's a good thing. But deaths from compost and jogging and internet cafes are "man bites dog", interesting because they are unusual, and should not be used to create laws if "the perfect is the enemy of the good."
Reacting to cognitive risk, reports of accidents, and raising our standards, is a good thing, it's how the world improves. But we must beware cynical commercial interests, ego-driven NGOs, and irrational fears driven by circumstantial contexts. Joe Truini of Waste and Recycling News was a marathon runner, and died young, in his 30s. We should not punish jogging or composting the way we have punished digital dived computer donation - for a crime in Africa that may not even have occurred at all.