Stuck valve causes ammonia leak in southwest Champaign

Stuck valve causes ammonia leak in southwest Champaign

CHAMPAIGN – Valves frozen open on an anhydrous ammonia tank in a farm field west of town created a cloud over a portion of southwest Champaign this morning.

Lt. Ed Ogle of the Champaign County sheriff's office said authorities learned about 7:40 a.m. that a cloud was over a farm field near the construction site of the Interstate 57 interchange with Curtis Road. The location was not far from the First Christian Church, 3601 S. Staley Road, C.

Champaign police and county sheriff's deputies blocked traffic in the area as a precaution, and occupants of the church were advised to stay inside until the cloud dissipated, which was not expected to take long, according to Champaign Deputy Fire Chief Tim Wild.

The leak involved a tank that was being used to apply anhydrous ammonia as fertilizer to fields, but the blade valves became stuck open, according to Wild.

"He (the tank operator) drove it into the field to get it away from the road," Wild said.

The tank was located 200 yards west of Staley Road between Curtis and Windsor roads on land owned by Bud Barker, Wild said. The release left an odor in the area, he added.

Anhydrous ammonia becomes an acid when combined with water, Wild said. It's an irritant that could damage the eyes or cause problems if inhaled, he said.

"You wouldn't want to breathe it," Wild said. "It seeks out water. It would turn to acid with water on the skin or in the lungs."

Debbie Berg, custodian at the First Christian Church, said the five people in the building were advised to stay in the church until the cloud dissipated.

"If we need to leave, we need to go to the south, away from the cloud," Berg said.

Ogle said the fact that there were no winds this morning helped to dissipate the cloud.

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