A recent incident at a cold storage facility in the New Zealand city of Christchurch prompted an evacuation and the deployment of emergency services. The cause for concern was due to an ammonia leak from within the building.

The call out resulted in the appearance of six fire engines, four police cars and an ambulance due to the seriousness of the chemical, and shows the need for detection equipment.

The dangers of ammonia

Ammonia is a colourless gas with harmful implications if a person is exposed to it. At low levels the substance can cause discomfort through contact. The threat escalates if it is inhaled or encountered at high volumes, causing a severe reaction and potentially death.

The danger is amplified due to ammonia’s widespread nature, with a number of applications making use of the gas.

Its most common use is as an industrial refrigerant, with the phasing out of CFCs leading to its widespread use. This use is reinforced by its status as one of the most environmentally friendly refrigerants.

Due to it’s toxicity and flammability, care is needed with regards to ammonia’s storage, transportation and implementation. Leaks and spillage can create harmful situations for people and the surrounding area if not properly contained.

Ammonia becomes even more dangerous if it is allowed to come in contact with bleach. The resulting reaction creates chlorine gas – significantly more deadly than ammonia.

The Christchurch incident

Thankfully for the business concerned, no injuries or lasting damage was caused by the release, with quick and effective containment keeping exposure to a minimum.

The leak was confirmed as being minor, but still cost the business in terms of productivity, with 45 minutes taken to find and isolate the source after the evacuation. Surrounding buildings were also affected, with emergency crews preventing people from leaving in case the the gas could not be contained.

Solutions and support

There are plenty of products that specialise in preventative detection, allowing refrigeration to be checked regularly to make sure all seals and surfaces are intact. Even if no leaks are detected, this prompts a regular inspection of the places where they may occur.

Devices such as the Testo 316-4 Set 2 offer compact and easy-to-use detection solutions that make it simple to assess refrigeration installations for leaks.

The 316-4 Set 2 features two types of warning method if an issue is spotted, with both optical and audio cues ensuring the user is aware of the discovery. The device also supports earplugs, maintaining its effectiveness even in noisy environments.

Ammonia leaks are serious events that can endanger both staff and productivity. Ensuring you have the capability to monitor potential leaks is necessary to keeping employees safe and the business operational.

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