NE Man Dies after Pipeline Leak

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 @ 01:10 PM gHale

A 59-year-old Nebraska man died Monday night after suffering from exposure to a cloud of anhydrous ammonia that leaked from a pipeline north of Tekamah, NE.

Phillip W. Hennig of Tekamah died after driving through the gas cloud.

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Magellan Midstream Partners of Tulsa, Oklahoma, said its 8-inch pipe system began to leak late in the evening. Cause of the leak is under investigation. Anhydrous is widely used as fertilizer.

Area residents called authorities at 9:20 p.m. Monday saying they smelled anhydrous at 3310 County Road P about eight miles north of Tekamah and just west of U.S. 75.

“Being farmers, they knew (smelling) anhydrous was not a good thing,” said Burt County Emergency Manager Terry Schroeder. “They started calling 911.”

Emergency responders evacuated 40 to 50 people from a 2-mile radius around the site and shut down area roads including U.S. 75 going both directions between Nebraska 32 in Tekamah to Nebraska 51 in Decatur, he said.

The area is rural and primarily farm ground. Displaced families either spent the night with relatives or at the Decatur Community Center.

The evacuation remained intact and roads remained closed as of 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Schroeder said there were concerns shifting winds could carry the anhydrous cloud. Some people have been allowed to return to their homes briefly to get medications. They were accompanied by officials who monitored the air to ensure their safety.

Magellan has shut off the section of pipe where the leak happened and is letting the remainder of the liquid anhydrous leak out. Once that occurs, workers will be able to work on the pipeline.

Nebraska State Patrol’s HazMat team, working with Tekamah Fire and Rescue, reached the site and removed Hennig’s body just before 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to Burt County Sheriff Robert Pickell.

There were no other injuries reported.

Magellan said it notified state and federal authorities. A response center has been set up in Decatur.

Magellan spokesman Tom Byers said the company grieves with Hennig’s family.

The anhydrous pipeline provides fertilizer in several Midwestern states. It starts near Borger, Texas, and travels through Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, with a branch that extends into Minnesota.

Anhydrous evaporates into a pungent gas with suffocating fumes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It causes rapid dehydration and severe burns when it combines with water in the body. Symptoms include burning eyes, nose and throat from breathing even small amounts. Higher exposure causes coughing or choking and death from a swollen throat or chemical burns to the lungs.

Magellan, in cooperation with local emergency response personnel and state and federal regulatory agencies, is continuing to isolate and secure the 8” pipeline.

The following day, air quality monitoring at the release site and the surrounding area remained underway. While air quality improved, the readings did not warrant allowing local residents to return home, Magellan officials said.

Operations of the ammonia pipeline will remain suspended until all repairs can safely occur, Magellan officials said.