anhydrous ammonia

EPA’s Successful Emergency Response in Vineland, NJ

By Barbara Pualani

Front of South Jersey Ice facility

Front of South Jersey Ice facility

The end of the year is typically a time for reflection – when we think back on the events of the past year and shape our plan for the year to come. When I think back on EPA accomplishments of 2016, one of the first accomplishments that comes to mind is South Jersey Ice & Cold Storage – a successful emergency response in Vineland, New Jersey. It was my first experience working in response to an emergency. Moreover, it is an excellent example of how EPA works hard every day to protect human health and the environment in our local communities.

Emergencies tend to happen at the most inconvenient of times, and this emergency was no different. On July 4, I was celebrating the Independence Day holiday when I got a call from my supervisor asking if I could go to New Jersey to help with Spanish translation in response to an emergency. As a speechwriter, I generally write about emergencies and hardly go out into the field to address them, but I was happy to help out. As public servants, it’s our duty to serve in a myriad of ways.

Ice and frost buildup on refrigeration system

Ice and frost buildup on refrigeration system

I arrived in Vineland, New Jersey the next morning with a colleague. We first met with EPA on-scene coordinator, Dwayne Harrington, who gave us the rundown. South Jersey Ice & Storage, a storage and refrigeration facility, was in a state of disrepair. Excessive ice and frost had accumulated on the cooling coils of the refrigeration system, revealing the risk of a potential release of anhydrous ammonia – a toxic substance that can have serious health effects ranging from itchy eyes to burns and blisters and even death, depending on the level and length of exposure.The concern was that the anhydrous ammonia used in the facility’s refrigeration systems could be released at any moment, exposing residents to the toxic gas. EPA’s duty was to inform residents of the risk and figure out how to safely and securely remove the ammonia from the facility before a toxic release could take place.

Meeting with local officials at the firehouse, we sat down to establish an action plan. My role in this effort lasted one day, but my EPA colleagues would work continually on this emergency response for the next couple of months. In the end, EPA safely relocated 35 residents to nearby hotels, coordinated several daytime evacuations, and safely and securely removed over 9,700 pounds of anhydrous ammonia from the facility. Door-to-door visits and regular updates kept the community informed, and the threat was completely eliminated by the end of August.

U.S. EPA Command Post

U.S. EPA Command Post

Emergency situations are unpredictable, and desired outcomes can often be hard to achieve. Looking back on 2016, I say proudly that EPA’s response in Vineland was impeccable. In the end, I was most impressed by my EPA colleagues, who remained calm, poised, and methodical and kept public health at the top of their list of priorities. This situation is the perfect example of how local, state, and federal officials can effectively work together to safeguard the environment and public health. At EPA, people are at the core of the work that we do – and that’s something to be celebrate.

 

About the author: Barbara Pualani is a speechwriter for EPA Region 2. Prior to joining EPA, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is a graduate of the University of Northern Colorado and Columbia University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Hometown Emergency as Youth Spurs EPA Career in Heartland Ag Outreach

By Kris Lancaster

“Go get your grandmother!” my uncle shouted as a deadly white cloud of anhydrous ammonia drifted menacingly above my hometown of Memphis, Mo., in 1970, where I worked as a teenager at my family’s agribusiness.

Lancaster family agribusiness

Lancaster family agribusiness

I vividly remember my uncle’s face 45 years later, and the weight on my shoulders to evacuate Grandmother Lancaster. I raced to her house and convinced her to go with me to my uncle’s home. After she was safe, I ran to other homes and knocked on the doors to alert my neighbors of the danger. After a few hours, hundreds of nearby residents were safely evacuated.

The emergency was triggered when a fitting on an anhydrous ammonia tanker disconnected from the storage tank, resulting in the release of nearly 20 tons of the airborne chemical. The truck driver and a neighbor helping at the scene were injured.

Many people don’t associate risk with agriculture, but some of the chemicals used can be dangerous. The 1970 incident had a huge impression on me. I realized that exposure to anhydrous ammonia can happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and can cause injuries or even death. This chemical is widely used as a source of nitrogen fertilizer for corn, milo and wheat.

That accidental release happened before EPA was created. Since then, most of the agribusinesses in Region 7 have worked well with EPA and handled these volatile chemicals very responsibly.

Anhydrous ammonia tanks

Anhydrous ammonia tanks

EPA regulates anhydrous ammonia through the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan (RMP) Rule. Our goal is to prevent releases that could harm the public and environment. Agricultural retail facilities that handle, process, or store more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia were first required to be in compliance with the RMP Rule in 1999.

At the Lancaster agribusiness, my job in the 1960s and 1970s included loading and unloading fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate. In Scotland County, Mo., this fertilizer was used by farmers primarily as a top dressing for wheat and applied on pastureland.

On April 17, 2013, a fire at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, resulted in the detonation of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, killing 15 people. Since then, EPA and its partner agencies have stepped up outreach efforts with retailers, responders, and agribusiness associations across the country to help prevent future tragedies.

Today, it’s gratifying to know that EPA is continually reaching out to the ag community in the Heartland to protect workers, responders, and the public from dangerous chemical incidents. I’m proud to work with our agribusinesses to help keep our communities safe.

Visit these EPA Region 7 links for more information:
Agriculture page
Chemical Risk Programs page
Preventing Accidental Anhydrous Ammonia Releases video

About the Author: Kris Lancaster specializes in agricultural relations for EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. After graduating from Central Missouri State University, he worked for the chairman of the Missouri House Ag Committee and later, for the ranking member of the U.S. House Ag Committee. His family owns a row-crop farm in Scotland County, Mo. Kris has three decades of media relations experience.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.