The Ottumwa Courier

January 10, 2014

Cargill evacuates because of ammonia

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — An ammonia leak at the Cargill plant on South Iowa Avenue in Ottumwa caused the whole plant to be evacuated early Friday morning.

According to Cargill spokesman Michael Martin, the leak was detected around 2 a.m. The plant was evacuated immediately, and the respiratory response team on site, with support from the Ottumwa Fire Department Hazmat team, acted to stop the spread.

“It was determined there was a leaky valve in the system that moves ammonia around through the refrigeration system,” Martin said.

The plant uses ammonia in the refrigeration system of the plant, and, according to Martin, one of the valves sprung a leak early this morning.

The entire plant was evacuated immediately after the leak was discovered, and precautionary steps were taken to keep everyone safe. First-shift workers were sent home for the day, and part of South Iowa Avenue was closed down as a precaution, according to Ottumwa Fire Department Chief Tony Miller.

Martin also said two people from the plant were taken to the hospital as a precaution. One of them, a Cargill supervisor, was transported to a nearby hospital and has since been transferred to a different hospital. He is said to be in stable condition. There was also a security guard, who is not employed by Cargill, who asked to be transported to the hospital.

There is an assessment being conducted to determine if there is any leftover ammonia remaining in the open air that needs to be dealt with. Workers in the second shift have been notified that they will not come in for their regular shift this afternoon because cleanup is not going as quickly as hoped, according to Martin. To help with the loss of production, there will be two full shifts on Saturday.

According to Miller, the ammonia was confined to one area of the plant. Thanks to specific training that the fire department performs with Cargill, the process this morning went well.

“Cargill guys are great to work with,” he said. “We train with them every year for situations like this, and it went pretty smooth.”

The plant is a USDA-inspected plant, according to Martin, and they are working with the USDA to make sure it is to their satisfaction to start the second shift. Each day the plant processes between 18,000 to 19,000 hogs, and to make sure they are keeping up with production they will use two full shifts on Saturday.

Investigations continue to determine what exactly went wrong and to come up with answers as to how they can avoid the situation in the future.

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh