Valve Leaks Hydrogen

Monday, December 23, 2013 @ 02:12 PM gHale

A leaking valve caused a hydrogen leak at an Airgas facility in the City of Elmira, NY, kept firefighters busy Wednesday and caused nearby streets to close off.

The hydrogen was leaking from a valve on a 6,000-gallon capacity tank, said Elmira Fire Department Capt. Robert Lutz. Firefighters spent much of the day venting the leak and by 2 p.m. had it under control.

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Lutz said a representative of Acme Cryogenics, of Allentown, Pa., met at the scene with members of Airgas’s hazardous materials team. Once they tested the air around the leaking tank and determined it to be safe, workers shut off a secondary valve, which isolated the leaking valve. Preliminary investigations indicate a faulty O-ring may have caused the leak, Lutz said.

Hydrogen gas vented from near the bottom of the tall, white vertical tank, forming white wispy clouds that rose upward and dissipated. In the afternoon, the gas also appeared to escape from around the top of the tank.

Airgas is a distributor of medical, industrial and specialty gases. The company also sells welding equipment and related products.

The Airgas building, a neighboring business — Bucher Emhart Glass — and a residence ended up evacuated, said company spokeswoman Sarah Stockton-Brown. City police also blocked off Sullivan Street between Industrial Park Boulevard and Pattison Street, and closed Matthew Street at Pratt Street.

Lutz said they evacuated the area to prevent people from accidentally igniting the gas by smoking or by using items that could make an electric spark. Once the leak was under control, they lifted the evacuation order and the streets re-opened, Lutz said.

After firefighters left the scene, an Airgas employee inside the building declined to comment on the incident.

Stockton-Brown said once they addressed the leak, the company would begin its investigation into the leak’s cause, which will include inspecting the tanks at the facility.

Hydrogen is a colorless and odorless gas but is highly flammable. The vapor cloud, which resembled steam as it leaked from the tank into the cold air, usually hugs the ground and the main concern was a fire hazard, said Michael Smith, director of the Chemung County Fire and Emergency Services.

Empire Airgas, which supplies the local company, ended up called for technical assistance. But the strategy, Smith said, was to let the gas vent.

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