ABBOTSFORD — An ammonia spill at Abbyland Foods sent 18 people including a firefighter to the hospital, authorities said Tuesday.
Witnesses tell Wausau Pilot and Review the chemical spill happened at about 6 p.m. in Abbotsford, forcing employees to evacuate the facility.
Fire officials were called at around 7:20 p.m. and by 8 p.m. the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department advised residents living within a mile of the facility to evacuate the area. The evacuation notice was lifted about an hour later.
The leak is being blamed on a burst pipe. The spill prompted at least 18 agencies to respond to the facility including a hazmat team. The Wisconsin Department of Resources
Fire officials said an ammonia pipe burst, causing the leak. They were able to turn off the ammonia.
18 different agencies responded to the scene along with over 50 first responders and the hazmat team. The DNR was also called to the scene to check the water for any ammonia that could have spilled into the water.
Ammonia is irritating and corrosive, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR. Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia in air causes immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. This can cause bronchial and alveolar edema, and airway destruction resulting in respiratory distress or failure. Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation.
Ammonia’s odor provides adequate early warning of its presence, but ammonia also causes olfactory fatigue or adaptation, reducing awareness of one’s prolonged exposure at low concentrations.
Children exposed to the same concentrations of ammonia vapor as adults may receive a larger dose because they have greater lung surface area-to-body weight ratios and increased minute volumes-to-weight ratios. In addition, they may be exposed to higher concentrations than adults in the same location because of their shorter height and the higher concentrations of ammonia vapor initially found near the ground.
There is no antidote for ammonia poisoning, but ammonia’s effects can be treated and most people recover, according to the ATSDR. Immediate decontamination of skin and eyes with copious amounts of water is very important. Treatment consists of supportive measures and can include administration of humidified oxygen, bronchodilators and airway management. Ingested ammonia is diluted with milk or water.