Local company plays clean-up role in avian flu outbreak
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - If you think you've got a tough job, how would you like cleaning turkey barns that were infected with avian flu?...
ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – If you think you've got a tough job, how would you like cleaning turkey barns that were infected with avian flu?
An Alexandria company-Mobile Washer-is up to its elbows in this kind of work.
It's already sanitized more than 40 poultry barns in South Dakota, is just starting to work in North Dakota and will be cleaning Minnesota turkey barns in a week or so.
"We've been busy," said Jeff Schutz, president and owner of Mobile Washer. "We already had enough work for 16 months and then this got dropped on us."
Not that he's complaining. The extra workload has created new jobs. The company has hired more workers-four to eight more per week-to keep up with demand, Schutz said. Some of them are coming from the oilfields in North Dakota where production has slowed a bit.
Schutz's relationship with the poultry industry stretches back 20 years so this isn't the first time his company has been called after a bird flu outbreak. It was contacted by a major turkey grower to clean some barns during the last outbreak, a much smaller one, about five years ago.
This time around, Schutz was contacted by turkey growers in the Dakotas who received his name through some mutual friends in Alexandria.
Schutz believes his company has gained a solid reputation in avian flu clean-up because it owns a lot of equipment, has connections with vendors throughout the country and can quickly adapt to conditions.
Mobile Washer enters the scene of an outbreak at the end of the process-after the birds are put down by a foaming agent, decompose and are removed.
The company typically gets a call from a turkey grower a week to 10 days in advance. A crew of six shows up with specialized equipment and goes to work.
The barns are big, 400 to 1,200 feet long, and typically take a day to clean.
As a precaution, crew members put on personal protection equipment, including boots, rain suits and rubber gloves, but they don't wear respiratory masks since the masks would get wet.
Schutz said that before his company started doing this kind of work, he checked with local physicians who said that chances of humans contracting the bird flu are low-no cases have been detected. The personal protection equipment adds another layer of safety.
The crew first applies a high-temperature sanitizing foam, lets it soak for a few minutes, and then it sprays down every nook and cranny in a barn, using water cannons that shoot pressurized water up to 65 feet into the air.
The last step is adding a chemical agent called Virucide that destroys any remaining viruses.
Later, after a barn dries, a health worker comes in and swabs the surfaces to make sure the building is virus-free.
"The whole process can take a few months, from when the growers first discover the problem to when they can bring the birds back in," said Schutz.
Working with the growers is a team effort and a rewarding part of the job, Schutz said.
"They're great," he said. "They have a very upbeat attitude even though they're taking a substantial loss. ... Like farmers, growers are eternal optimists. They'll get back into it and will prevail again."
About Mobile Washer
Mobile Washer, located at 615 Jackson Park SW in Alexandria, started in 1992 and has 15 employees. It offers on-site services of pressure washing, dry ice blasting, sand blasting and other blasting for building interiors, exteriors, fire damage and equipment cleaning. It also sells pressure washers (portable or stationary) and accessories, and services most brands of pressure washing equipment.
Avian Flu Numbers
The first case of avian flu in Minnesota was confirmed on March 5 in a turkey flock in Pope County. The second case in the state was confirmed about three weeks later on March 27. Minnesota had newly-infected flocks every day from April 15 to May 5.
Total number of affected farms in Minnesota - 84
Total number of counties - 21.
Total number of birds affected in Minnesota - 5.5 million
Health experts say poultry is safe to eat and that the outbreak does not pose a health risk or a food safety risk for the general public.