Ammonia vapour clouds vented from a chemical plant overpowered two men, who were transferred to hospital for further treatment.
On November 9 there were three emergency venting procedures that took place within a 45-minute period to relieve a build-up in pressure inside the containment tank at a factory in Newcastle – an industrial hub north of Sydney, New South Wales.
Speaking on the event, the firm in charge of the factory said in a statement that the releases went for approximately one minute each.
It asserted: “The ammonia vapour travelled across the Hunter River to the Australian Rail Track Corporation Facility, where the odour was detected and emergency services were called.”\
The victims – two rail yard workers – were not situated at the plant at the time and were not employees of the parent company.
They were taken to hospital by emergency services for further treatment for ammonia exposure – which resulted in extended breathing difficulties – but have since been released.
Officers from the NSW Fire and Rescue Services were called out to the rail yard after the workers were evacuated.
They were able to trace the residual ammonia fumes back to point of origin at the chemical plant.
Fire and Rescue NSW superintendent Paul Bailey said: “We searched for a possible source through plume modelling and traced it back to [the factory].”
Bailey also asserted that it would now be impossible for members of the public to be affected by the vapour released and that there were no further fears for public safety from the initial leak.
“The effects of ammonia are acute and instantaneous,” said Bailey.
Since then the head of the Environment Protection Authority Greg Sullivan has said he will issue orders to cease operations at the plant after its “unacceptable” performance, including failure to notify nearby workplaces and residences.
Sullivan told reporters: “I have indicated to [the company] that I will [be] issuing a notice to shut the plant, and specifically to shut the ammonia storage system which is where this incident occurred.”
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