Equipment failure caused ammonia leak at local plant

By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

DairiConcepts plant officials said equipment malfunctioning caused the June 6 ammonia leak that forced the plant’s evacuation and sent two employees to a local hospital where they were treated and released.

“We’ve identified the root cause of the problem,” Ed Steven, DairiConcepts’ site manager, said in a press release. “A piece of equipment malfunctioned which resulted in the discharge. We’ve corrected the problem, and have more checks and balances and safety interlocks in place so a discharge of this nature does not happen again.”

DairiConcepts officials would not elaborate on the specific piece of equipment.

At 9:30 a.m. on June 6, approximately 8,000 pounds of ammonia gas was accidentally released into the atmosphere, according to DairiConcepts officials. Portales Fire Department Battalion Chief John Bridges said firefighters, with the help of plant engineers, stopped the ammonia leak by shutting off a valve. Bridges said the area around the plant was secured and Roosevelt Road 6 closed.

Plant officials would not disclose the containment size of the ammonia compressor system, citing proprietary information. However, Agnes Shafer, vice president of communications for Dairy Farmers of America, said the plant is well in compliance with federal standards set by the Process Safety Management Act.

The DairiConcepts plant is a joint venture of dairy cooperatives Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra. The plant processes milk into dairy ingredients for a wide range of food and bakery applications. It employs 108.

Plant officials also said that a large ammonia leak would not be categorized as highly dangerous or life-threatening.
DairiConcepts officials were pleased with the manner the situation was handled.

“We have a very well-trained staff on site,” Steven said. “Our employees, the city of Portales’ fire department and law enforcement, as well as the state law enforcement agency, did a stellar job in containing the incident within an hour. We appreciate the collaboration, expertise and professionalism of everyone involved.”