Big anhydrous ammonia leak in Illinois

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An anhydrous ammonia (NH3) leak that went on for 12 hours beginning Tuesday night, June 4, and released almost 8,000 gallons of anhydrous ammonia plus contaminated 100,000 gallons of water is big news and a black eye for fertilizer dealers.

The leak occurred at the Conserve FS ammonia loading rack in Winnebago County, Ill., and was triggered by a Schoff Farm Service tanker truck hitting a valve.   

The contaminated water is the result of local fire fighters spraying water on the discharge to minimize the spread of the NH3 vapors. Some runoff water reportedly went into a branch of the Kent Creek which flows into a private pond that killed an undocumented number of fish.

Naturally, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) wants a court order for clean up and required improvements to the facilities so another incident doesn’t occur. Reports are that the IEPA is also citing the companies for several violations of Illinois Pollution Control Board regulations and the Illinois Environmental Protection Act.

Reports of the incident do not indicate the facility was located within a distance that required relocation of citizens from the area. Officials and nearby residents did report a strong odor and dead fish and a small amount of dead vegetation. A low level of NH3 released as vapor can result in eye, lung and skin irritation.

Officials are continuing to monitor the situation and assessing current conditions in the area. Conserv constructed dams of limestone on its property to contain any water that had not already flowed off site from the earliest dousing of the valve with water, and an aerator was installed in the private pond the evening of June 5 to help dissipate the ammonia in the pond. One report noted the nearest residents were provided with bottled drinking water until well water within a radius of the facility could be tested.

IEPA is expecting court support for requiring typical remediation by Conserv FS, which includes the following:

  • Contain and remove ammonia-impacted waters and soils that continue to pose a threat of water pollution.
  • Review the design and safety features of its chemical storage and loading/unloading areas for deficiencies that could lead to future release.
  • Implement additional corrective and remediation measures as determined appropriate.

Hazmat crews slowed the leak considerably early Wednesday morning by placing a cap in the restricting unit and waited until the leak stopped. Another report quoted the fire chief at the Win-Bur-Sew fire department as explaining what had been attempted first that failed— twice trying to cap the leak and then trying to redirect the ammonia into a tanker truck.

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