At about 12:15 am, Tuesday, February 8, 2011, Prince George’s County Firefighters, Paramedics and the Hazardous Materials Team were alerted to a chemical leak. A pipe leading to/from a 100 gallon container of ANHYDROUS AMMONIA had developed a leak. One hundred employees of the Smithfield Packing Company warehouse at 5801 Columbia Park Road in Cheverly were evacuated during this incident.
Upon arrival of the haz-mat team it was determined that they were dealing with a leak of anhydrous ammonia from a pipe. There was about 100 gallons of the product remaining in the storage tank and atmospheric monitoring and testing equipment indicated that the building’s interior had high levels of the product at 100 parts per million (ppm).
Anhydrous ammonia is widely used in industrial refrigeration applications and is a colorless, highly irritating gas with a sharp, suffocating odor. People will notice the pungent odor at levels ranging from 5 – 50 parts per million (ppm). Irritating effects generally begin at levels between 25-50 ppm. More serious effects generally will not occur until levels are greater than 100 ppm. Exposure to the product include symptoms such as burning of the eyes, nose, and throat after breathing even small amounts. With higher doses, coughing or choking may occur. Exposure to high levels of anhydrous ammonia can cause death from a swollen throat or from chemical burns to the lungs. Immediate first aid includes providing fresh air, oxygen and flushing with water.
There were 70 emergency personnel on the scene that included 25 members of the Department’s Hazardous Material Team. It required four hours to mitigate the situation and at 4:25 am the building was turned back over to building management.
There were no civilian or personnel injured during this incident.