December 4, Merced Sun-Star – (California) Ammonia leak at Dole plant.
A large ammonia leak was reported at the Dole plant in Atwater, California, December 4,
prompting a sizable public safety response and the evacuation of some residents.
Although radio traffic initially described the incident as an explosion, firefighters with
the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Merced County Fire
Department later clarified that it was a leak. The leak happened after a heat exchanger
on the roof of a processing building failed. The pressure overwhelmed the safety
system and a 4-inch pipe broke, according to the Cal Fire captain. Firefighters and law
enforcement evacuated 175 employees from the plant, as the leak was classified as an
inhalation hazard. Residents living a mile north of the incident were evacuated briefly
from their homes and taken to the Atwater Community Center. The captain said about
100 gallons of anhydrous ammonia, used in processing frozen food, was released
during the incident, before the leak was stopped. About two hours later officials
deemed the perimeter of the Dole plant safe, and residents were allowed to return