Another ammonia leak, but it's smaller

Less than 100 pounds of the chemical escapes from a pipeline near the Big Bend power plant.

Published November 17, 2007

TAMPA - About 100 pounds of ammonia leaked from a pipeline crossing Tampa Electric's Big Bend power station early Thursday.

The company reported the incident to the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission three hours after the 5 a.m. leak, said Alain Watson, an air toxic specialist for the EPC.

No one was injured, and the plant was back to full operation by 6:15 a.m., Tampa Electric Co. spokesman Rich Morera said. The company did not alert fire officials, he said.

The company believes the accident occurred after a pressure release valve failed, Morera said. The company estimates the total amount of ammonia released to be 84 pounds.

For perspective, the amount of anhydrous ammonia released in Riverview this week after a teenager punctured the pipeline with a drill near U.S. 301 is expected to be in the tons, Watson said.

Companies are required to report toxic gas releases when they are 100 pounds or more. Watson said the company was trying to be conservative by telling them it was 100 pounds.

The EPC will inspect the pipeline Monday to try to determine what caused Thursday's leak. Such incidents happen about three to four times a year, Watson said.

While the Riverview pipeline accident might have resulted in some pressure changes in the rest of the line, Watson said it was unlikely that any of the pressure changes would be dramatic enough to cause the incident at Tampa Electric's plant.

The pipeline is owned by Tampa Pipeline Corp., but belongs to Tampa Electric once it crosses the property line, said Glenn Howell of Tampa Pipeline.

The section of pipeline affected Thursday was a small portion positioned above ground outside, but within Tampa Electric's secured plant property, Morera said.

The majority of the ammonia cloud released was contained with automatic water spray, Watson said. It was unclear how damaging the rest of the dispersed ammonia might have been to the surrounding area.

Anhydrous ammonia is a hazardous chemical used in the manufacture of fertilizer, explosives, textiles and other products. Human contact with an ammonia cloud can cause severe burns or swelling of the airways, resulting in death.

The EPC said Friday that ammonia levels in the Alafia River have returned to normal after the Monday pipe breach.

"The ammonia has been diluted," said Richard Boler, an environmental scientist. "The concentrations are back to the normal level."

Initially, the concentration of ammonia in the river was reported to be 30 times the normal level.

Boler also confirmed a report of a fish kill that came after the spill. He said "several thousand" fish died, but the fish were mostly bait fish, along with some crabs. He said no large fish were found dead.

Times staff writers S.I. Rosenbaum and Abbie VanSickle contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 813 226-3383 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.