Fruitland frozen food plant evacuated

August 1, 2013 

— An anhydrous ammonia leak at Dickinson Frozen Foods on Wednesday evening led the Fruitland Fire Department to evacuate workers and to ask nearby residents to remain inside their homes.

The leak was reported at 8:40 p.m. at the company's plant in an industrial zone at 600 N.W. 21st St. Plant employees detected the leak and notified Kemper Refrigeration, a refrigeration service company based in Wilder. Officials determined an emergency response was needed and called in the Fruitland Fire Department.

Firefighters evacuated the building and accounted for all of Dickinson's employees. Residents south of the plant were notified of the situation and were asked to remain indoors.

Emergency crews were able to contain an ammonia cloud inside the building. The Idaho State Region 3 HAZMAT team out of Caldwell responded and stopped the leak inside the building.

No injuries were reported, according to the Fruitland Police Department. Police and fire officers were on the scene for about five hours.

The plant, which quick freezes potatoes, onions, peppers and other vegetables, was aired out, cleaned up and resumed production this morning, authorities said.

Ammonia is widely used as a refrigerant in cold storage facilities that process and store meat and fish, vegetables, fruits, cheese, ice cream and beverages. The first practical refrigeration unit using ammonia through vapor compression debuted in 1834. By the late 1800s, the technology was being used in breweries and cold storage warehouses, according to the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration.

Exposure to anhydrous ammonia can cause irritation to the eyes, skin, and respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can also cause death.

Dickinson also operates a second plant, in Sugar City.

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