Ammonia leak causes evacuation

By Tony Parra: Freedom Newspapers

The DairiConcepts plant west of Portales was evacuated Tuesday morning for about an hour, and two plant employees were treated at the Roosevelt General Hospital after an accidental release of ammonia, according to a company press release.

The employees were sent to the hospital for undisclosed reasons and released within the hour, the release said.

At 9:30 a.m., approximately 8,000 pounds of ammonia gas was accidentally released into the atmosphere, according to the release. DairiConcepts site manager Ed Steven said emergency procedures were immediately deployed.

Portales Fire Department Battalion Chief John Bridges said firefighters, with the help of plant engineers, were able to stop the ammonia leak by shutting off a valve.

Bridges said the area around the plant was secured and Roosevelt Road 6 was closed.

The ammonia is used for cooling and refrigeration and housed outside the building. Ammonia gas causes skin, eye and respiratory irritation and burning.

A joint venture of dairy cooperatives Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra, the plant processes milk into dairy ingredients for a wide range of food and bakery applications. It employs 108.

Eileen Urioste said her husband and children had to evacuate their home across the street from the plant. Urioste said she was at work and kept in touch with them during the incident.

“My son received a headache, immediately,” Urioste said. “My daughter got a stomachache after a few huffs and puffs. They said they could smell it as soon as they opened the door. Their first instinct was that it was coming from the DairiConcepts plant.”

Urioste said her family was able to return to the house at 1 p.m.

At 10:30 a.m. the fire department allowed DairiConcepts employees to return to the plant and their homes.

“First and foremost, we are thankful that our employees and residents are OK,” Steven said in the press release. “Everyone involved — employees, the city of Portales Fire Department and the local and state law enforcement agencies — needs to be commended. They did a great job of responding quickly during this unexpected situation. We are sincerely grateful to them and to nearby residents for their cooperation.”

The press release said DairiConcepts plant officials plan to complete its inspections and review within the next 24 hours. The plant will resume full operation only when the review is complete. Steven said at the time of the incident, the plant was conducting its regularly scheduled cleaning and maintenance work.

“DairiConcepts is working with the local fire department for the city of Portales, state and regional regulatory authorities to determine the cause of an accidental release of ammonia that occurred at its dairy processing plant,” said Agnes Schafer, vice president of communications for Dairy Farmers of America, in a press release. “As a precaution, neighboring businesses and local residents were requested to evacuate, and the situation was contained within an hour.”