HAZARDOUS VAPOURS: Firefighters disperse an ammonia flare at an Orica storage site yesterday.
HAZARDOUS VAPOURS: Firefighters disperse an ammonia flare at an Orica storage site yesterday. Mike Richards GLA

Investigation launched after flare stopped, ammonia escaped

At FIRST emergency crews didn't know where they were going as a 7.50am hazardous-material-leak call-out had three fire crews, police and ambulance heading to Yarwun.

Ammonia was being loaded from a ship to Orica's Fisherman's Landing storage site but when the flare stopped burning it released ammonia vapour in the air.

The toxic substance is highly flammable and can burn skin and eyes and lead to vomiting.

Fire crews arrived on the scene and, using a ladder on one of the fire trucks, started releasing a mist to contain the vapour. This continued from 8.30am to 3.30pm.

The other crews stood more than 80m back and worked with Orica workers to determine how to stop the leak.

"We had other guys at (closer to the leak) with atmospheric monitoring equipment," Queensland Fire and Emergency Gladstone station officer Chris Sullivan said.

"Once or twice the wind did change."

While they contained the vapour with mist, other crews worked with Orica to cut the ammonia supply to the flare that was pouring out toxic vapour.

"Orica staff did a really good job initiating their procedures and we work in conjunction with those guys," he said.

Orica cut the tap at the ship that was pumping the ammonia into Fisherman's Landing and had to wait for all of the ammonia to purge.

"We waited for most of the liquid to get pumped back into the tank," Mr Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, six people were examined by the paramedics but none showed signs of exposure to the vapour.

"Importantly, there are no reports of injuries and no nearby residential communities," an Orica spokeswoman said.

"We are very grateful for (the emergency services') support and will continue to do everything we can to assist them.

"Once this is fully resolved we will, of course, undertake a thorough investigation into how the incident occurred."

This is the second emergency response to an Orica site at Yarwun in a week.

On September 16 crews were called to a "cyanide incident" at the main site after a female worker noticed a wet patch on her clothing and set off the emergency procedure.

The Orica ambulance took her to Gladstone Hospital, where she underwent blood tests.

Gladstone Fire Station acting station officer for that incident Chris Brett said the area was safe when fire crews arrived.

"Orica staff had already rendered all the possible sodium cyanide," he said.

The woman's blood results were within normal levels and she left the hospital within a couple of hours.

"I think it's clear that our response in that event demonstrated that our protocols are clearly understood across the site, are adhered to and are effective," the Orica spokeswoman said.



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