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Ammonia leak kills contract worker at Alberta nitrogen plant

Second worker injured, later released from hospital


(Canadian OH&S News) — A 49-year-old male worker has passed away following an ammonia leak at a nitrogen plant in Medicine Hat, according to information from the Alberta Ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour.

The accident, which occurred at the Medicine Hat Nitrogen Complex owned by CF Industries on Dec. 7, also exposed a second worker to ammonia. Both victims were employees of Aluma Systems Canada, which CF had hired for contract work, according to Ministry media representative Christine Wronko.

“They were weatherproofing the outer layer of a large ammonia tank,” said Wronko. “It appears a piece of equipment struck the tank’s valve, which caused the ammonia leak. Both workers were taken to the hospital, where one man, unfortunately, passed away. The other was treated and released with minor injuries.”

No updated information was available as to the released worker’s condition.

Aluma’s Calgary location did not respond to COHSN’s request for comment before press time. A spokesperson with CF’s head office in Deerfield, IL offered condolences to the deceased worker’s family, friends and co-workers on behalf of the company.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of a contractor who was working at the Medicine Hat Nitrogen Complex,” the spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.

The CF rep added that the company was planning to conduct its own investigation into the tragedy. “There is no ongoing hazard from the incident to employees, contractors or the community, and the plant is operating normally outside of the incident site,” he said. “We take the safety of everyone inside and outside the facility very seriously.”

The Medicine Hat Nitrogen Complex is Canada’s biggest nitrogen-production facility, according to information from CF’s website. The plant produces up to 1.5 million tonnes of nitrogen products annually for agricultural and industrial use in western Canada and the United States Corn Belt.

Aluma Systems is an international infrastructure company with 12 Canadian locations, including two in Alberta. Founded in 1972, the corporation now operates in more than 50 nations, the company website claims.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ont. says on its website that inhalation of ammonia is extremely toxic and can be fatal. “Symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, difficult breathing and tightness in the chest,” CCOHS says. “Symptoms may develop hours after exposure and are made worse by physical effort. Long-term damage may result from a severe short-term exposure.”

First-aid measures for ammonia inhalation include moving the victim to fresh air and getting trained personnel to administer emergency oxygen, the CCOHS site adds. A doctor or poison centre must be contacted urgently, and the victim must not be allowed to move about unnecessarily.