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CANADA:  One person died and two others were sent to hospital following an ammonia leak at Rich Products plant in Fort Erie, Ontario yesterday.

Medical crews, fire response, Haz-Mat and other emergency services responded to the leak that occurred around midday after some people reported feeling the affects of the spill. The response prompted an evacuation of both the facility and surrounding homes.

Following a sweep of the plant by the emergency services, they reported that two people had been injured and tragically one person had died as a result of the spill.

The person, who died, was a contractor who was working near the refrigeration plants pressurized ammonia tank at the time when it ruptured and having been overcome by the fumes died at the scene.

“We’ve suffered a terrible tragedy here today,” said Dwight Gram, Rich’s vice president of corporate communications. “Worker safety is our No. 1 priority, and we’re heartbroken that this tragedy occurred.”

Rich Products Corporation is an international company headquartered in Buffalo that produces frozen food products.

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USA:  The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a safety video following the release of over 14.500 kg’s of refrigerant at the Millard Refrigeration Plant in 2010, which resulted in over 150 workers being exposed to anhydrous ammonia, thirty of which were hospitalized and four admitted to intensive care.

The safety video details the events that led up the resulting ammonia release and key lessons in order to prevent a similar accident from occurring due to 'Hydraulic Shock in Industrial Refrigeration' systems.

The investigation found that the day prior to the accident the Millard facility experienced a loss of power that lasted more than seven hours, during which the refrigeration system was shut down. The following day the system regained power and was up and running, though operators reported certain problems. 

Whilst troubleshooting an operator cleared alarms in the control system, which reset the refrigeration cycle on a group of freezer evaporators that were in the process of defrosting.

This resulted in both hot, high-pressure gas and extremely low temperature liquid ammonia to be present in the coils and associated piping at the same time, causing the high-pressure ammonia gas to rapidly condense into a liquid. 

The sudden pressure drop sent a wave of liquid ammonia through the piping, causing a sudden pressure surge known as "hydraulic shock," resulting in a sharp pressure rise and a catastrophic failure of piping.

The release formed a large cloud of Ammonia which travelled a quarter mile from the facility south toward an area where 800 contractors were working outdoors at a clean-up site for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, resulting in a total of 152 workers reporting symptomatic illnesses from ammonia exposure.

CSB Investigator Tyler said, "The CSB's animation details how the pressure surge ruptured the evaporator piping manifold inside one of the freezers causing a roof-mounted 12-inch suction pipe to catastrophically fail, resulting in the release of more than 32,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and its associated 12-inch piping on the roof of the facility."

The video presents the key lessons learned from the CSB's investigation including avoiding the manual interruption of evaporators in defrost and requiring control systems to be equipped with password protection to ensure only trained and authorized personnel have

the authority to manually override systems. 

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UK:  A survey of over 100 ammonia refrigeration systems operating in food manufacturing facilities in the UK found that less than 20% met DSEAR and ATEX Legislation. The survey by Stephen Gill Associates also revealed that 30% of sites had no or inadequate risk assessments for their ammonia refrigeration systems.

The ATEX 137 Directive was formally adopted into law in the UK in 2003 and requires that all companies operating with areas, (including those containing ammonia refrigeration plant), classified as ‘Hazardous’ classify their production areas into zones and assess the risks both to their employees and their plant assets.  While the majority of the sites in the survey had DSEAR assessments for the rest of the site, the ammonia refrigeration plants had been ‘by-passed’ as they were considered ‘too specialist’.

 It was not just the DSEAR/ATEX legislation giving operators problems to meet their legal obligations.  The duties imposed by the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR) relating to pressure systems for use at work and the risk to health&safety were also found to absent in many cases.

It was found that many operators of ammonia refrigeration systems found it difficult to understand the standards that support the legislation. What was even more surprising was that many of the refrigeration contractors maintaining the systems also were gave confusing or inaccurate advice to their clients.  Unfortunately, lack of understanding of the requirements is no excuse for lack of action in the eyes of the HSE, and indeed the insurance companies. Certain aspects of DSEAR/ATEX can appear confusing, but this legislation is all about personnel safety, allowing the workforce to understand the issues associated with their place of work, and ensuring that the number of accidents and injuries to persons operating in these industries is reduced.

Many operators were using ammonia based refrigeration systems for the first time due to changes in environmental laws around refrigerants.  All this comes at a time when the HSE is putting a higher priority on health and safety of operations involving flammable materials. 

Stephen Gill said “we are fortunate in this country to have a good safety record when it comes to ammonia refrigeration systems.  Incidents are thankfully few and far between so we were surprised by the high number of sites with inadequate or inappropriate safety procedures in place”. 

Stephen Gill Associates are refrigeration consultants who have successfully supported a number of major food producing groups through the compliance process for their ammonia refrigeration plants.

If you are an operator of ammonia refrigeration systems and wish to understand how the various H&S legislation applies to you, or you have made some progress, but are finding it difficult to see the way forward to compliance, why not e-mail the multi-award winning refrigeration experts Stephen Gill Associates to discuss your requirements.  



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USA:  Star Refrigeration's new subsidiary Azane Inc, is to manufacture its climate friendly and high performance low charge ammonia freezers for the US market.

Azane Inc was launched earlier this year to provide a natural refrigeration solutions in light of the R22 phase out and potential HFC phase down for the US refrigeration industry. Star Refrigeration specializes in low charge packaged ammonia refrigeration systems, including the energy efficient air cooled Azanefreezer (a companion to the Azanechiller) that is designed for use in freezer warehouse.

The Azanefreezer, essentially an ammonia condensing unit, is a complete refrigeration package housed in one unit with two separate ceiling mounted coolers arranged for reverse cycle defrost. The unit contains two screw compressors, designed for industrial installations and located for easy maintenance access. Its low pressure receiver offers efficient operation and allows for a low charge of ammonia. The enhanced aluminium evaporator design provides better performance from the lowest amount of ammonia, without the need for any pumps as found in traditional ammonia systems.

The utilization of low charge, natural refrigerant ammonia, a zero GWP and non ozone depleting substance, should safeguard Azanefreezer from future environmental legislation. The system has a life cycle of 25+ years at maximum operational performance. It also uses reverse cycle defrost – currently the only system to offer this – which defrosts more efficiently.

Expanding on the benefits of ammonia, Derek Hamilton, Azane’s US Business Development Manager, says: “All Azanefreezer components have been selected to minimize the risk of refrigerant leakage, reduce refrigerant charge, simplify maintenance and prolong plant life expectancy. The Azanefreezer has been installed in public warehouses across Europe for over 20 years due to the phase out of R22. It is a fully tested and proven technology which has now been made available to US customers to aid the transition from ozone depleting refrigerants by 2020.”

The ammonia packaged unit has been specifically designed to operate with as little as one tenth of the charge of a traditional refrigeration system, therefore avoiding the burden of OSHA’s PSM and the EPA RPM requirements.

To find out more visit the Azane website


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USA: Star Refrigeration announce the launch of a new subsidiary US Company Azane Inc.  to manufacture and supply it's “low-charge ammonia” Azane technology.

The industrial refrigeration group, who developed the unique technology, Azanechiller and Azanefreezer  to meet the environmental and legislative challenges that the cooling industry was facing as Europe started the phase-out of ozone depleting refrigerant R22.

The technology is being introduced to the US market at a key time, just as the US refrigeration industry begins to see the effects of the Environmental Protection Agency's R22 phase-out program. The EPA's phase-out timetable for R-22 will gradually decrease its production until a complete ban comes into force in 2020. The cost of R-22 will continue to rise and existing R-22 refrigeration systems will become uneconomical long before it is banned completely.

The Azanechiller and Azanefrezeer are factory-built industrial refrigeration packages which are both highly efficient and environmentally conscious. The design uses patented technology to deliver the lowest cost of ownership by minimizing running costs over 25 + years.

All Azane packages use the natural refrigerant ammonia and have been designed to operate with as little as one tenth of the charge of a traditional refrigeration system, therefore avoiding the burden of OSHA's PSM and the EPA RPM requirements.

Ammonia is also future-proof. A natural refrigerant widely used for its environmentally friendly credentials -zero ODP and zero GWP- it is not under threat of being banned, unlike HFCs.

Derek Hamilton, US Business Development Manager at Azane says: 
"The good news is that there are plenty of options available to allow a smooth transition away from R-22. Low charge ammonia is one of a number of options available and we are always happy to talk to our customers and guide them through the various options. There are a wide range of 'drop in' refrigerant options are available, this typically consist of blends of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)."

Derek Hamilton adds, "In the USA, the use of ammonia has historically been restricted to large, distributed refrigeration systems. These systems are typically site-installed and require a central machinery room to house the refrigeration equipment. These systems also tend to use 'pumped circulation' technology that requires a relatively large quantity of ammonia.

"The advent of 'low charge ammonia' means that ammonia is now being considered in applications which were typically the domain of 'commercial' systems. These commercial systems often use the HFC refrigerants mentioned above. Some users of HFC systems may be reluctant to switch to an ammonia system because of safety concerns, however the reality is that ammonia systems in general are very safe and the low-charge, packaged approach alleviates these concerns further by using the minimum amount of ammonia and ensuring that it stays within the refrigeration system."

About Star Refrigeration:

Star is the UK's largest independent industrial refrigeration engineering company. Star is a Total Solutions Provider, working in partnership with customers, from design through to commissioning and maintenance.