This past week, a firefighter was killed and 20 people were injured after an ammonia leak at a meat processing plant in Israel. The leak occurred at the Hod Hefer processing plant at Emek Hefer industrial zone north of Netanya. The incident forced the evacuation of over a hundred people from the surrounding area. Some reports state that the leak occurred after one of the factory’s employees hit a pipe from a 60 ton storage tank.
Anyone who has food processing facilities or cold storage warehouses within their response area should be familiar with the types of refrigeration systems that are in use. Anhydrous ammonia is commonly used as a refrigerant in meat, poultry, and fish processing facilities, as well as those that handle dairy and ice cream products. It can also be found in wineries and breweries, fruit and vegetable juice manufacturing, and cold storage warehouses with either refrigerated or sub-freezing storage.
According to OSHA, ammonia is considered a high health hazard because it is corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Exposure to 300 parts per million (ppm) is immediately dangerous to life and health. Fortunately, ammonia has a low odor threshold (20 ppm), so in incremental exposure most people will seek relief at much lower concentrations than those that are dangerous. However, if you respond into one of these facilities for a small leak or an unrelated incident, you must understand the facility operations and be prepared if there is any potential for a sudden release of ammonia refrigerant. It was reported that as much as 8 tons or more of ammonia escaped during this particular incident. In the U.S., ammonia refrigeration systems with 5 tons or more are subject to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Process Safety Management standard 29 CFR 1910.119.
While often placarded as a non-flammable, ammonia is actually flammable at concentrations of approximately 15% to 28% by volume in air. When mixed with lubricating oils, its flammable concentration range is increased. It can also explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire.
For more information on ammonia, refrigeration equipment, and regulations that govern these systems, there is a great e-tool provided by OSHA, which can be found at : https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/ammonia_refrigeration/ammonia/
An article on the incident follows:
A firefighter was killed and 20 people were injured during a hazardous leak at a factory in central Israel Thursday night.
In an indication the situation was under control, residents living near the Emek Hefer industrial zone north of Netanya were told early Friday morning that they could return to their routines. In addition, the stretches of Route 4 that were closed as a result of the accident were re-opened early Friday morning.
Police had evacuated hundreds of people from the area and residents were told to shut themselves in their homes as ammonia escaped a meat processing plant.
The firefighter, 37-year-old Samer Asli from the Israeli-Arab town of Kafr Qara, went missing in the plant after emergency units lost contact with him at around 8 p.m. He was located by rescuers in critical condition after 11 p.m. and was pronounced dead soon after.
Another 20 people, including a number of firefighters were treated for light to moderate injuries.
Some eight tons of ammonia seeped from the Hod Hefer meat processing plant in Emek Hefer, north of Netanya, according to Channel 2.
Twenty-four firefighting units were dispatched to the scene in an attempt to contain the toxic leak.
A 58-year-old man was moderately hurt from inhaling the substance.
Police closed off nearby highways, and removed hundreds of workers from the industrial area where the factory is located.
Residents of communities nearby were told to barricade themselves in their homes, closing all windows, doors, and air conditioning units.
Police also evacuated a number of wedding halls and supermarkets in the area.
The spokesman for the Netanya firefighting unit told Channel 2 that the ammonia was used to fuel the refrigeration units in the chicken factory, and the leak was likely the result of a pipe that had either cracked or forcibly cut.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch arrived at the scene and was briefed on the situation, Ynet reported, as emergency services expressed concern that the crack would cause the gas tank to break.
The factory, a cooperative of several local kibbutzes, is located in an industrial zone to the south of Hadera.