An anhydrous ammonia leak from a portable 1,000-gallon fertilizer tank caused evacuation of approximately 20 homes in Home City Wednesday afternoon. A Sheriff’s report revealed a valve broke on a portable tank behind Lewis Seed and Fertilizer. Employees from Lewis Seed called 9-1-1. According to William Schwindamann, Marshall County Emergency Management Director, the tank was being worked on when the leak developed. Schwindamann stated the county’s automated call system alerted residents in the area affected. Blue Valley Tele-Communications community room opened as a temporary shelter.
Responders sprayed water on the leak in an attempt to stop the gas from spreading. The allowed the gas to dissipate into the air until the tank emptied. Schwindamann reported that there were no injuries due to the leak.
John Nowatzki, Ag Machine Systems Specialist at North Dakota State University explained that anhydrous ammonia is a clear, colorless gas at standard temperature and pressure conditions and has a very characteristic odor. The odor is the strongest safety feature of the product.
When anhydrous ammonia is released from compression in a storage tank the temperature drops from 100 F to minus 28 F. During a sudden release ammonia will freeze-burn human skin on contact, actually freezing clothing to the skin. Since anhydrous ammonia is stored under high pressure, a sudden rupture can shoot ammonia 10 to 20 feet from the point of release. Exposure to the ammonia can cause irritation of the nose and throat, damage to the eyes and lungs, and cause blisters and burns on skin. In worst cases, exposure can cause death by suffocation.