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Anhydrous ammonia leak injures Grainland Cooperative employee PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Lee   
Tuesday, 27 March 2012 20:14

Grainland Cooperative agronomy plant manager Jim Austin was seriously injured following a hazardous material accident Thursday, March 22 northeast of Holyoke.

At about 9:50 a.m. last Thursday, March 22, Holyoke Volunteer Fire Department was called to an anhydrous ammonia leak at Grainland Cooperative’s east facility located on Highway 23 (angle road to Amherst) a couple miles northeast of Holyoke.

Eighteen minutes after the initial siren was sounded, the air was again filled with the wail of whistles summoning more help.

Austin and employee Jerry Whipple had been changing a pump on a line when a leaky valve began to spray anhydrous ammonia. Austin, who was closer to the leak, received burns on his legs. Whipple was able to get away.

Both employees were taken to Melissa Memorial Hospital. Whipple was treated and released, and Austin was transferred to the burn unit in Greeley.

Austin returned home this past weekend, and he and wife Mary stated Monday, March 26 they were really grateful on many counts for the response by all involved. They feel prayers are the reason they were in such good shape as of Monday.

Once a tank is leaking, there is no shutting it down, according to Grainland CEO Rick Unrein. He said they were thankful there was only about 2,300 pounds of product in the tank.

Earlier that morning, a truck was off-loading into the tanks when a leak was noticed. Since the truck had just been weighed, Grainland knew how much product was in the tank and knew it wasn’t going to leak forever.

“We’re very fortunate there wasn’t more product in the tank,” Unrein said.

Unrein was quick to say all safety precautions were taken and all of the employees followed their training. At the time of the accident, Austin was wearing his Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but the anhydrous managed to get up his pant legs.

“There were no safety violations. It was just a fluke,” Unrein said. “That’s why you train.”

Unrein said they made plans to have the whole system checked and redone by a professional this week.

County Road 41, running between Highways 6 and 23 a mile east of Holyoke, was shut down for much
of the day Thursday, March 22 following an anhydrous ammonia leak at Grainland Cooperative’s east
location. The leak injured Jim Austin, who was replacing a pump on a line at the time.  —Enterprise photo

Firefighters spent nearly five hours in the rainy conditions applying water to the leak and searching for valves to shut the system down. Around 1 p.m., a hazardous materials unit with the Colorado State Patrol arrived to assess the scene and give the all-clear.

Two of Holyoke’s firefighters were taken to the hospital for ammonia exposure. Both were treated and released, according to fire chief Phillip Wirges.

Holyoke EMS remained on the scene to keep a watch over those responding.

Local law enforcement immediately shut down County Road 41 between Highways 6 and 23. Phillips County Sheriff Rob Urbach said they also shut down a portion of Highway 23 and the train tracks for a short period of time.

Holyoke Volunteer Fire Department, Amherst Volunteer Fire Department, Holyoke EMS, Phillips County Sheriff’s Office, Holyoke Police Department, Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado State Patrol’s hazardous material unit all responded to last Thursday’s incident. The Haxtun fire department was also summoned but was turned back before arriving on the scene.

Law enforcement officials said the wind was blowing in a favorable direction away from Holyoke. Grainland’s east facility is about one and a half miles northeast of Holyoke.

Homes and businesses in the area were warned about the leak but no mandatory evacuations were ordered. Marcia Walter at Dragon’s Wagon Preschool said they were warned about the leak and had people come out to check the air quality. Kids were kept in school when they were assured they weren’t in any danger. Parents were informed and were given the option to take their kids out of school if they so desired.

Supt. Bret Miles sent an alert to Holyoke School District, informing them of the leak. The school has a shelter procedure in place but it was not initiated last Thursday.

In an effort to help the volunteers and everyone involved, Grainland had lunch delivered as crews waited for the all-clear from the hazardous material team.

Holyoke Enterprise March 29, 2012