Safety Plan Aids in Fighting Ammonia Leak

Friday, July 10, 2015 @ 04:07 PM gHale

A valve leaking ammonia triggered a hazardous materials team to respond to a call at the Brooks Rand Labs in Bothell, WA, Wednesday.

Firefighters from the cities of Bothell, Kirkland, Bellevue and Woodinville all descended upon a Bothell business park. The massive response stirred neighboring businesses. No one was hurt during the incident, according to a Bothell Fore Department spokesperson.

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Brooks Rand Labs is an analytical service for trace amounts of metals.

“It was a minor leak, we were able to go in secure a valve, stop the leak. We did that and searched the building and made sure everyone was evacuated,” said Rich Christianson, Bellevue fire captain and Eastside Hazmat Team coordinator for King County Zone One.

The ammonia leak was in gaseous form and, being lighter than air, the ammonia was easy to clear out without requiring an evacuation of the surrounding area. The response level was ‘B’ for the danger level it posed to the firefighters responding to the scene.

“It was a very minimal hazard for us. Ammonia [in gaseous form] is an inhalation hazard, so we had all of our gear on, we wore our self-contained breathing apparatus and didn’t need to get into any higher level of hazmat protection. We call that level B,” said Mark Peffer, acting fire chief for Bothell Fire and EMS. “If it was liquid then it becomes a highly concentrated liquid, then it’s much more dangerous. But at this point, being just a gas, it was pretty easy to deal with.”

While the firefighters responded quickly, they said it was the preparation of the owners of the labs and the routine training firefighters undergo that led to this call ending in success.

“This facility had a good containment system for dealing with their gases, and it worked, and they did a great job of getting everybody out and having their reps out here talking to us so we knew exactly what we were working with and what the systems were,” Peffer said. “There was a ventilation system active on the building that was keeping the concentration down.”

Pheffer said the leak was most likely accidental and they removed the container that leaked.

Exposure to ammonia is irritating and corrosive, according to the NY Department of Health. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. This can cause bronchiolar and alveolar edema, and airway destruction resulting in respiratory distress or failure. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation. Ammonia’s odor provides adequate early warning of its presence, but ammonia also causes olfactory fatigue or adaptation, reducing awareness of one’s prolonged exposure at low concentrations.