3 Hurt after Pizza Factory Chem Leak
Friday, March 3, 2017 @ 05:03 PM gHale
After an ammonia leak at the Tony’s Pizza manufacturing facility early Wednesday morning, three people ended up in the hospital suffering from exposure to the chemical release.
A 31-year-old Salina, KS, woman had a headache and was coughing before she received the first of three automatic phone calls on her house phone at 3:16 a.m. Wednesday morning warning of an anhydrous ammonia leak.
The call, made through the Saline County notification system called CodeRed, informed Sarah Gabriel of a leak at Schwan’s Global Supply, 3019 Scanlan, commonly known as the Tony’s Pizza plant, near her home.
Eventually, Gabriel went to Salina Regional Health Center and treated for exposure to the toxic gas.
By Wednesday afternoon, the roof of Gabriel’s mouth still felt like it was “burning,” she said.
Gabriel contacted the fire department before returning to her home around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday when she and others were able to return to the area. She said ammonia fumes ended up detected in two rooms of her home.
Two Tony’s employees also ended up treated by paramedics at the scene of the ammonia leak of up to 5,000 gallons.
Leak on Roof
It all started at 2:20 a.m., when an ammonia leak on the roof of the manufacturing facility ended up discovered. Officials were able to contain the leak at 5:30 a.m., Chuck Blomberg, Schwans communication manager, said in a release.
“Ammonia is used in food production as an energy-efficient refrigerant in our equipment to freeze food,” the Schwans release said. “As the event occurred, we immediately requested assistance from local emergency crews, and we thank them for their response. Upon learning of the incident, we evacuated all employees from the facility. Emergency crews also issued a voluntary evacuation of the area, and we would refer you to local authorities for those details. Throughout the incident, we received two reports of employees seeking medical treatment as a precaution, and both were treated and released.”
“There was an ammonia leak at Tony’s. Close your doors and stay inside,” Gabriel was informed with the first call.
A second phone call at 3:24 a.m. told her to not let any outside air inside, to close all windows and doors and to turn off the heater.
But Gabriel had a broken bathroom vent allowing fumes into her home, located just east of the Tony’s Pizza facility.
“I got a third phone call saying to evacuate,” she said of a call at 4:53 a.m.
By then Gabriel was feeling ill and called 911. John Berggren, Salina Regional public relations coordinator, said three people ended up treated at the emergency room for inhalation of the ammonia.
“They drew blood and gave me a breathing treatment; had me breathe oxygen,” she said. “I had a headache really bad and my stomach burned. My throat was painful and burned. I didn’t connect that it was coming into my house.”
Breathing in Fumes
Salina Fire Marshal Roger Williams said the greatest danger was breathing the fumes.
“You don’t want to stand in it and just breathe it,” he said. “Minimal exposure is not completely harmless but you don’t want to be outside breathing this stuff in.”
The area with the most concern were residents in the area of Centennial Road to the west, Schilling Road to the north, Water Well Road to the south, and Interstate Highway 135 to the east, Saline County Emergency Management Director Hannah Stambaugh said in a 5:27 a.m. email.
A recommended evacuation of the area to the west of the facility occurred, but it was not mandatory.
Schilling Elementary School ended up closed due to the chemical leak, said Jennifer Bradford-Vernon, Salina School District spokeswoman.
Williams said the ammonia leak ended up detected by a monitoring system at the plant’s guard shack, where they then called 911.
“We did find on the roof actually a frozen pool of anhydrous ammonia,” he said.
The pool of ammonia was about 25 feet by 25 feet, 6 inches deep.
The cause of the leak is still under investigation, but officials know it came from a four-inch line on the roof.
By 10 a.m. Wednesday the ammonia had melted and dissipated into the air.
“The roof is completely clear now,” Williams said at that time. “At this point we are looking at the mediation process. At this time, we have everything under control.”
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