Ammonia leak prompts evacuation of Energy Centre

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An ammonia leak at the Cold Lake Energy Centre is under investigation.

A contractor working on an expansion to the facility damaged piping containing the chemical.

On Sunday, June 4, people were rushed out of the Energy Centre, Cold Lake High School, and Portage College after an ammonia leak was detected. Two-days later, the Energy Centre was reopened to the public following a series of air quality tests.

Ammonia is a chemical compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. It’s a colourless gas with a pungent smell. It’s often used to cool the concrete floors of arenas like the Imperial Oil Place.

The facility was evacuated as soon as ammonia was detected, and Cold Lake Fire-Rescue was called.

“Once we arrived on scene, I had firefighters gear up with full personal protective equipment to ensure everyone was out of the building,” said Cold Lake Fire-Rescue deputy chief Norm Hollis. “Once we ensured we had everyone out of the building, we located where the leak was and utilized the fire department blow-off line to dispel the rest of the material.”

The blow-off line is a valve outside of the Energy Centre used by the fire department to allow any gases to be released into the atmosphere.

“Like a chimney affect,” Hollis explained, adding ventilating the building took nearly two-days.

Before giving the go-ahead to open the building to residents, the fire department conducted air quality tests throughout the facility. They were looking for a 20.8 or higher in oxygen levels.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is also called during these incidences. Using a local health official, they work with the fire department to ensure that the air quality testing has been completed. Residents are not allowed into the facility until AHS has given the green light.

After taking some readings and being satisfied with the results, the fire department presented their findings to AHS, who was ready to open the facility to the public on June 6.

The contractor that had damaged the pipe also hired someone to complete air quality testing specific to ammonia, and also had clear readings.

Ammonia in the air can cause burning in the nose, throat, and respiratory tract.

If exposed for longer periods of time in a high concentrated area, a person can experience severe burns, stomach pain, and vomiting.

This isn’t the first time there has been an ammonia leak at the Energy Centre.

City CAO Kevin Nagoya said since opening the Imperial Oil Place, the facility has experienced leaks on two separate occasions. However, in neither circumstance was the chemical getting into the building or a cause for concern.

In this case, there were signs that it was spreading into the foyer and other areas. Although ammonia wasn’t detected in the high school or college, they closed the entire facility for safety purposes.

The investigation as to how the pipe was damaged is still ongoing.

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