Mechanical failure may be cause of gas leak at Jackson Co. plant

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A gas leak at a Jackson County plant Friday morning is being blamed on a mechanical failure. A pipe at Airgas Specialties started leaking Anhydrous Ammonia around 8:45 AM. Fortunately, no one was injured. It took county firefighters and environmental crews about an hour to contain the small leak.

Deputies blocked off a section of Saracena Road as emergency vehicles rushed to a gas leak at Airgas Specialties in the Helena Industrial Complex.

"We reported to the scene to find an actual plume, quickly dissipated. We just stayed to keep the plume down," said Escatawpa Fire Chief Donnie Lowery.

That plume originated from liquid Anhydrous Ammonia leaking from a transfer line that linked a 30,000 gallon tank to a rail car. Environmental officials say large amounts of the chemical can be corrosive if you inhale or touch it. They suspect a relief valve on the pipe malfunctioned.

"We believe it was due to a mechanical failure because the pressure in the system, whenever it builds up too high, it'll release. But the pressure on the gauge did not indicate that the pressure was high enough for release," said Daniel Stuart, MDEQ Emergency Response Manager.

Escatawpa firefighters and six units from neighboring fire departments doused the leak with water and the plant manager shut off the valve. MDEQ said the plant manager was the only employee on the property when the leak happened.

"The county and the fire here locally, as well as the plant, did a fantastic job getting this under control in a hurry. As you know, it can be a hazardous, especially with such a volatile gas," said Stuart.

Within an hour, the leak was contained. Emergency crews left the property feeling relieved that there were no injuries, no evacuations, and no danger to the community. MDEQ is working with Airgas Specialties to continue its investigation of the leak and determine exactly how much gas actually escaped.

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