ST. LOUIS – Two St. Louis firefighters and a civilian were rushed to a hospital Tuesday morning after exposure to an ammonia leak in Dogtown. One of the firefighters suffered a chemical burn from the corrosive anhydrous ammonia while checking a tank that was the source of the leak.
Exclusive video from our Bommarito Automotive Group SkyFOX shows white vapor spreading along the ground at the Paulo Company on West Park Avenue near Manchester Road. It’s a company that works in heat treating, brazing, and metal finishing.
Fire officials said a contractor for the company was working on a large anhydrous ammonia tank at about 8 a.m. when the leak developed.
“He was working on a valve and, at some point, we’re not exactly sure what went wrong, but we had a release of anhydrous ammonia,” said St. Louis Fire Capt. David Neighbors.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found the contact worker a bit disoriented.
“Our firefighters found the individual in the street kind of staggering and attempting to actually get back into his truck,” Neighbors said. “We were able to mask up quickly, go in, and walk him out.”
Two firefighters then went to check the tank; that’s when one of them stepped into ammonia liquid near the tank. As the firefighter was walking away, you can see the vapor coming from the bottom of his pant legs. Both firefighters were sprayed down and decontaminated and they went to a hospital by ambulance.
Anhydrous ammonia is used as a fertilizer by field corn and wheat growers. It is a clear, colorless gas. A poisonous, visible vapor cloud is produced when ammonia makes contact with water. It’s also corrosive and can burn the skin and the vapor can irritate the lungs.
The Paulo Company and two nearby businesses were evacuated for a while and nearby residents were told to shelter in place for a time.
Captain Neighbors said dispatchers began receiving calls about a pungent odor in the area. As a result, firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics were dispatched to check on those people making the calls.
One firefighter suffered chemical burns to his foot and leg. The other firefighter was treated and released.
The cause of the leak is still under investigation.