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A first responder to an Arkansas City fire was sent to the hospital after being exposed to ammonia on Wednesday, Sept. 25.
A fire sent thick clouds of smoke in the air at the Creekstone Farms beef plant. The blaze damaged a refrigeration system, from which leaking ammonia spread to a large portion of the plant. Firefighters were at risk as they responded to the blaze. One injury was reported.
Conveyor Belt Ignites
The fire broke out in the shipping and storage area during the late afternoon. At around 5:35 p.m., a main product conveyer belt caught fire for an unknown reason. Firefighters were called minutes later as workers throughout the plant were evacuated.
Arkansas City and Winfield firefighters responded to the call. They swiftly entered the facility and started working on fire suppression.
"Firefighters did a good job going in there and trying to make things safe," Bobby Wolfe, Fire chief, told reporters at the scene. "They went in there with hydraulics going on and machinery whipping around, and they were able to get in and do the job."
The fire was put out by 5:40 p.m., but the building remained a hazard. At around 6 p.m., firefighters were heard reporting to Wolfe that ammonia had been detected in the building and that natural gas may not have been turned off yet. One firefighter was brought to the hospital where he was treated for ammonia exposure. He was released the same day.
About ammonia poisoning
Ammonia is a colorless gas that can pose serious harm to individuals. If inhaled, ammonia can cause serious damage to the respiratory system.
If subjected to an environment with high concentrations of ammonia, one will feel their eyes burning and experience difficulty breathing. According to the National Institutes of Health, this may result in coughing, wheezing, mouth pain and lip swelling. Long exposure will cause severe chest and throat pain, as well as temporary blindness. A victim will experience an alerted mental state and a rapid, weak pulse.
Physically, one will get blueish-colored lips and fingernails from exposure.
If the respiratory system is impaired, ammonia poisoning is treated by breathing support. Other treatment includes flushing of the eyes/skin and fluids transmitted through IV. Survival past 48 hours usually indicates recovery will occur, however, chemical burns in the eye can result in permanent blindness.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has determined limits of exposure before individuals are at risk. A concentration of 25 parts per million is acceptable for under 8 hours of exposure, and one can be exposed to 35 ppm for under 15 minutes. A toxic gas detector can be used to obtain readings.
Beyond the workers brief hospitalization, no injuries have been reported as a result of the Arkansas City fire.
The facility planned for a partial return of operations the following day, and a full return of employees one day after.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection.