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Fatal ammonia release in South Carolina

16 July 2009

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is deploying an investigation team to the site of an anhydrous ammonia release that occurred earlier today at Tanner Industries, located south of Swansea, South Carolina, the agency announced.

Fatal ammonia release in South Carolina
Fatal ammonia release in South Carolina

According to media reports a woman driving her car near the facility was overcome by the ammonia vapour and was fatally injured. Seven other individuals were taken to a local hospital in a stable condition with respiratory problems, none of which was life-threatening. Five were plant workers; the other two were nearby residents.

The leak occurred at the Tanner Industries plant as a hose had been connected from a delivery trailer containing anhydrous ammonia (purified ammonia) to a storage tank in the facility. During that operation, a hole burst in the hose, and leaked 1,800 gallons of ammonia.

The leak from the plant, located about 24 miles south of Columbia, was reported to the Lexington County Sheriff's Department shortly before 8 a.m. Firefighters arrived within 10 minutes at the plant, where they saw a large, light-coloured, dense plume, and closed area roads to traffic.

The ammonia hovered first over U.S. 321, then moved into a wooded area. The material was so concentrated it turned vegetation in the area black. The road was reopened at 2 p.m after the plume had dissipated.

Ammonia is found throughout the environment in the air, soil, and water, and in plants and animals including humans. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can cause irritation and serious burns on the skin and in the mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes. At very high levels, ammonia can even cause death. Ammonia has been found in at least 137 of the 1,647 current or former National Priority Sites list identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is a chemical used in a variety of industries, including the manufacture of fertilisers and in commercial refrigeration systems.

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