Two Va. Workers Hospitalized for Ammonia Exposure

HOPEWELL, Va. -- Two contractors were sent to the hospital for treatment following exposure to ammonia Thursday morning. The Linde plant on South Hopewell Street was evacuated and students at city schools sheltered in place as a precaution, city officials said.

The city's alert system was used to notify schools, factories and other centers, prompting students to be kept indoors.

"Because of having chemicals around the city, it's a thing we have in place which allows us to quickly notify," Hunter said. "The schools made the decision to go ahead and lock down the students until we could confirm whether we had a leak or not."

Students at all schools were sheltered in place for a period this morning because of the city's warning about a possible ammonia leak, confirmed Brian Capaldo, spokesman for Hopewell City Public Schools.

"On arrival, we had two subjects on the ground with exposure to ammonia," said Jonny Hunter, battalion chief with Hopewell Bureau of Fire. "They were transported to John Randolph (Medical Center)."

City officials and plant leaders returned inside to make sure there were no further injuries and to confirm the cause of the release.

"We went in and made sure the leak was secure. We did have a slight smell of ammonia and some release off-site," Hunter said.

In a statement, the company said the two were contractors among the approximately 50 people working at the plant yesterday morning. Workers were apparently making repairs to a pipe, Hunter said, when some ammonia that was still in a pipe was released by accident.

Just before noon, officials were making "their last sweep to make sure the levels of ammonia are low enough" to allow workers to return, Hunter said. Many waited in a nearby field clad in hard hats, some venturing to grab an early lunch.

The plant has operated since 2004, capturing carbon dioxide from a neighboring plant and purifying it for applications including food chilling and freezing, health care, pharmaceutical manufacturing and soft drink bottling and dispensing, the company said.

"We place the highest value on keeping our people and the communities in which we operate safe," said Vinita Abraham, spokeswoman for Linde North America Inc. "Linde facilities have a strong record of continuous improvement in environmental performance and strong employee focus on preventing incidents. We are currently working with the Hopewell Fire Department to investigate the exact cause of the incident."

Copyright 2012 - The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service