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Company Fined $71K for Ammonia Leak

By Jordy Byrd

A refrigerant ammonia leak this year prompted a swift evacuation, and even swifter OSHA fine, in a Reser’s Fine Foods plant in Topeka, Kan. A compressor seal leak released eight pounds of ammonia, hospitalizing one worker in the process.

The Beaverton, Ore. based company, which produces deli salads and sides, now faces a $71,700 fine. OSHA cited the company for 13 serious safety and health violations, eight involving federal process safety procedures that require companies to manage hazardous chemicals.

This isn't the company's first leak. Reser's paid more than $13,000 in 2007 for failing to alert authorities immediately following an anhydrous ammonia leak in the same Kansas facility.

The leak evacuated more than 100 employees and hospitalized one firefighter. As part of the settlement, Reser's purchased nearly $23,000 worth of emergency response equipment for the Topeka Fire Department. According to the EPA, the company waited 50 minutes to alert national emergency officials, and more than 25 hours to alert local officials.

Ammonia Pipe Marking

Ammonia can kill, as it's corrosive to the skin, eyes, and lungs. Exposure to just 300 parts per million (ppm) in the air is immediately dangerous to life and health. Facilities can protect workers with properly labeled pipes.

The International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) – requires thorough and specific labeling of all pipes and ducts that contain ammonia-based refrigerants. IIAR Standards contain both normative and informative information, establishing both the minimum requirements for industry compliance and advisory information where applicable.

According to IIAR, ammonia pipe marking labels are required to include the following components:

  • Abbreviation for ammonia system components
  • The physical state – either liquid, vapor, or both
  • The marker body containing the word “ammonia”
  • The pressure level – high or low
  • The flow direction

Graphic Products created an Ammonia Pipe Marking Wall Chart, which provides a quick reference for when and where workers need it most. The guide offers abbreviation guidelines, IIAR color schemes, size and location of markers, and more to be used as a training resource.