Ammonia scare quickly averted

By Rowena Plett
Marion County Record – July 12, 2017

A slight tightening of a valve was all that was needed to stop a potentially toxic ammonia leak that drew multiple emergency responders to Lincolnville late Saturday.

After a series of callers noticed the pungent smell of ammonia coming from a battery of six nurse tanks that farmers use to apply anhydrous ammonia, a gaseous form of nitrogen, Lincolnville firefighters, Tampa ambulance, a sheriff’s deputy, and the county emergency management director were dispatched to the Agri Trails nurse tanks east of Lincolnville.

They noticed a small white cloud at a valve on one tank. After studying the situation, they called the emergency number listed on the tank and notified manager Perry Gutsch of the leak.

Gutsch arrived, walked up to the tank, and tweaked the valve, stopping the leak.

“I walked past fire chief Lester Kaiser and the emergency management guy, and the guy asked how much had leaked,” Gutsch said. “I said less than 10 pounds.”

The “guy,” identified as Randy Frank, said that was all he wanted to know, and everyone left.

While 10 pounds is enough to produce a noticeable odor, it is far below most governmental standards for notification of a toxic spill.

Gutsch said the situation tends to happen every year. Anhydrous is under pressure, and when weather gets hot, pressure increases. Then, when it cools down at night, the valve seal shrinks, causing the tank to leak vapor.

“I just snugged it down a 16th of a turn and it was done,” he said. “Anhydrous is nothing to sneeze at, but this wasn’t a huge incident.”

Gutsch said anhydrous gas expands 117 times when it hits air, and that’s what caused the small white cloud. It dissipated within two feet of the tank.

The tank contained less than 10 percent of its capacity, something Gutsch tries to ensure for all of the tanks in summer. It was not in service and was awaiting a new Agri Trails logo.

The anhydrous ammonia facility is inspected every year by Kansas Department of Agriculture. The Environmental Protection Agency also audits records and facilities.

Patsy Trout and her grandson, Trevor Trout, live in two houses north of the facility. Weather reports indicated a 6 mph wind from the south-southeast, which carried the scent to their residences.

Patsy said her grandson reported the leak. He and his friends gathered in his front yard as emergency responders arrived.

“I opened my window and told Trevor and his friends to get inside,” she said.

She said leaks happen occasionally, causing stinging eyes and scratchy throats. After she replaced the windows in her house, it was less of a problem, she said, but the vapor kills or scorches outside plants exposed to it.

Victor and Gail Burns live northwest of the anhydrous tanks.

“I was sleeping and didn’t smell a thing,” Gail said. “The house was closed up, and I didn’t know anything about it.”

Karen Hurt lives straight west of the tank station, on the west side of US-56/77.

“I never have smelled it,” she said. “It happens periodically but has not for quite a while.”


Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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