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Second ammonia leak at plant sends six employees to hospital

Cayce, SC (Paul Kirby) – A second ammonia link at a food processing plant at 167 Overland Drive in Cayce sent six of the plant’s employees to the hospital Saturday evening. According to Harrison Cayhill, spokesman for Lexington County, the information he had received was that none of their injuries was life-threatening. According to Google, the plant that was formerly known as Otis Spunkmeyer located at that address, is now operated by ARYZTA AG (‘ARYZTA’). According to their website, Aryzta is an international food business with a leadership position in frozen B2B bakery. ARYZTA’s customer consist of a mix of large retail, convenience and independent retail, Quick Serve restaurants and other foodservice categories.

Just after 10:00 a.m. Saturday, the Lexington County 911 center received reports that there was a leak of ammonia coming from a portion of that gas handling system on the rooftop of the plant. They dispatched a full hazardous materials response from the Lexington County Fire Service along with EMS units and supervisory personnel from the county’s EMS division. When they arrived, they found that the employees of the plant were evacuating the facility.

As the full hazmat resources arrived at the property, the fire service used a ladder equipped truck to access the rooftop and began efforts to stop a slow leak in the ammonia system. At one point, the LCFS estimated that there were approximately 16 gallons of the product that had leaked, but they never appeared to estimate that the product was in such a high concentration that it would be a danger to anyone off site. They never ordered an evacuation of any neighbors or the businesses nearby or ordered the closing of roads or the adjacent I-26. Ammonia in high concentrations can be very deadly, however as it moves away from its source, it mixes with the air and the concentrations become safer.

Plant officials later revealed to the media that the system was undergoing maintenance during the time of the leak. Hazardous material technicians from the LCFS continued to work on the slow week for several hours until it was controlled and readings in the area returned to safe levels. They eventually wrapped up their first operation and left the scene early Saturday afternoon.

Later Saturday evening, the county again received reports that ammonia was leaking from the system on the roof at the plant. The hazard materials team reassembled on the site as did multiple EMS units. After the first response, fire commanders thought it prudent to request the assistance of the Columbia Fire Department’s HazMat team for back-up. During the second response, Lexington County EMS transported six employees for treatment of what again was described as injuries thought not to be life-threating. Later Saturday night, the leak was controlled, and the fire service placed the situation under control and return all equipment and personnel to their quarters. Spokesman Cayhill said that no county personnel were injured in either of the incidents.

According to the website of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United. States Department of Labor, ammonia is considered a high health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Exposure to 300 parts per million (ppm) is immediately dangerous to life and health. Ammonia is also flammable at concentrations of approximately 15% to 28% by volume in air. When mixed with lubricating oils, its flammable concentration range is increased. It can explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire. Fortunately, ammonia has a low odor threshold (20 ppm), so most people will seek relief at much lower concentrations.

In an OSHA document, most meatpacking, poultry and food processing plants use thousands of pounds of anhydrous ammonia in their refrigeration systems. These systems are safe and efficient as long as the ammonia stays in the pipes. Everyone who works around ammonia refrigeration systems should be aware of ammonia and its characteristics. See What’s Good About Ammonia Refrigeration Systems? By clicking here: LINK

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