Slaton residents are breathing easier, literally. That's because at around one o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, a toxic cloud of ammonia filled the air west of Slaton forcing dozens of residents to evacuate their homes. The situation remained tense for several hours until a hazardous materials crew was able to shut off the leak.
It was a volatile scene. A ruptured pipe spewing a toxic cloud of ammonia into the air. The pipe burst when a half-million gallon tank full of liquid fertilizer collapsed at the Poole Chemical Plant. "When we arrived we found that 1/2 million gallons of product had leaked. It had catastrophically failed," says Slaton Fire Chief Joe Scott.
The fertilizer spill tore a gash in a two inch pipe line which caused the anhydrous ammonia leak. Because of the toxicity of the ammonia in the air, officials were then forced to evacuate businesses and residences within a half mile of the leak, including two apartment complexes downwind from the leak. "I was watching TV and the police came and told me to evacuate. I grabbed my child and we got out," says Slaton resident Angela Zuniga.
Firefighters suppressed the vapor cloud with water until a Hazmat crew was able to go in and shut off the valve. Officials say there were no injuries. The reason the tank collapsed is still under investigation. The half million gallons of liquid fertilizer can be vacuumed up and salvaged and is reportedly not a ground contamination concern. "Most of this product can be recovered. We'll suck it up with a vacuum truck, filter it and put it back in tanks and use it," says Poole Chemical Plant Manager Scott Piercy.
Poole Chemical is unsure at this point how much the spill will cost them. One firefighter on the scene was slightly overcome by the ammonia vapors, but he was checked out, is ok and is now back on the job.
Poole Chemical sells and distributes the liquid fertilizer in bulk quantities for farm use. They say it's a lot like what you put on your lawn, only in liquid form.