Aqua Ammonia Leak from Local Fertilizer Company
(Whiteford, Md) — On May 12, 2005 at 10:00am, Harford County Hazardous Materials crews were called to the intersection of Rt. 165 and Rt. 136 in Whiteford, Maryland for a unusual odor. A bicyclist, who had been riding in the area, noticed the smell and at the same time experienced a burning sensation in his eyes and on his skin. Hazardous Materials crews determined the smell to be aqua-ammonia and that the odor was coming from the Royster-Clark Company, a local fertilizing business. Acqa ammonia is diluted with water and contains 24% ammonia.
HazMat crews learned the fertilizer company had received a shipment that morning and were in the process of off loading the aqua ammonia into a 6,000-gallon receiving tank when they discovered a leak in the receiving tank. Even though the tank was leaking the contents were being captured in the containment area. The company immediately notified the Harford County Division of Emergency Operations and then began the process of off loading the contents of the failed tank into a new tank. It wasn’t until the bicyclist reported the odor that company officials discovered that some of the aqua ammonia had leaked from the containment area into an open pit area behind the storage facility. Company officials estimate approximately 1500 gallons of the material was unaccounted for and believed leaked from the storage container and the containment area. Ammonia has a pungent odor which prevailing winds spread through the area. Tests conducted by HazMat Team members found the presence of ammonia in some nearby businesses; however, the ammonia was easily ventilated with fresh air.
While HazMat crews investigated the spill members of the Whiteford, Darlington and Delta-Cardiff volunteer fire companies along with Sheriff’s deputies responded and began cordoning off the area. Deputies and State Highway officials shut down several major intersections and detoured traffic from the area while other deputies went door to door to make sure local residents knew of the emergency. School officials from local Harford County schools were asked to keep the children who resided in the affected area at school until the situation was resolved; and the Health Department was also made aware of the situation and had representatives on site. Several businesses in the area temporarily shut down or closed their doors during the event.
Approximately 20 residents voluntarily evacuated and sought shelter at the Whiteford Volunteer Fire Company on Rt. 165. Three of those evacuees reported minor eye and skin irritations and were transported to the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. No other injuries were reported.
At 1:30pm, the area was deemed safe and both roads and pedestrian traffic resumed in the area. HazMat officials believed the windy conditions prevalent at the time would continue to dissipate the odor. However, officials did remain on site for most of the afternoon to monitor conditions.