Anhydrous Ammonia Leak Causes Residents to Evacuate Near Kelley

KELLEY, Iowa  --  An anhydrous ammonia accident near Kelley caused a handful of homes to be evacuated Friday morning near the Key Co-Op just east of town.

“We've had minor leaks, just very minor leaks on the tanks here at the co-op, but this was a major one,” said Kelley Fire Department Assistant Chief Randy Graham.

A farmer returning a set of anhydrous ammonia tanks to the Key Co-Op had a piece of his equipment ripped off in the middle of the road and sprung a leak.

“It was a big, huge, white plume, looked like a lot of white smoke,” said Graham.

Luckily, the leak happened in the best possible location: a dip in the middle of the road.

“Today's incident, it was great. It was down in that valley. It kept it from spreading as far,” said Graham.

The heavy vapor sunk in the valley allowed the blustery wind to disperse it little by little instead of all at once.  Key Co-Op said there was another element in their good fortune.

“Having employees serve on our local fire departments served us well in this regard, because one of our employees was able to evacuate a residence up wind of the anhydrous to make sure they were out of harm's way,” said Ryan Janssen, Environmental Health and Safety Director for Key.

There were no injuries due to the leak.

Meanwhile, hazmat crews from Ames and Des Moines arrived on scene to contain the fertilizer leak.

“There's valves on these anhydrous tanks, and you gotta get up close and personal and turn those valves off,” said Graham.

The fertilizer is commonly used post-harvest and in the spring. If it gets on your skin, it can cause dry ice-type burns, and if a large amount it gets in your lungs it can be worse.

“You inhale anhydrous and it will go directly to your lungs and you will basically suffocate, is what it amounts to,” said Graham.

Key Co-Op says leaks are fairly rare, but it pays to be educated on how to deal with them.