An employee at the Nelson and District Community Complex was taken to hospital last night to be treated for burns caused by ammonia.
Nelson Fire Rescue Services responded to a call of a possible ammonia leak at about 10:30 p.m.
Upon arriving, they found a few members of the public gathered at the front entrance, complaining of a strong smell of ammonia in the building. The whereabouts of one staff member was unknown, and a search of the arena was launched.
He was subsequently found to have already been taken to hospital, seeking treatment for burns caused by ammonia.
Fire crews determined the fumes were coming from a large container of diluted ammonia outside. An unknown amount spilled near the building’s air intake, and the fumes spread inside.
Firefighters wearing hazmat suits and air tanks retrieved the solution, and in consultation with the Ministry of Environment and complex staff, neutralized the material and disposed of it.
Crews were on the scene until 3 a.m.
Stuart Horn, chief administrator of the Regional District of Central Kootenay, which operates the facility, said the problem was in a leaking condenser, which has been shut down and will be repaired. Horn said they were already in the process of awarding a contract for a system that shuts down ventilation after a leak. A similar system already exists indoors.
“If there’s a leak inside the refrigeration room, it happens automatically,” Horn said. “The condenser outside doesn’t have that function. This pushes things along for sure.”
Horn said they don’t know why the condenser leaked — it could have been faulty or age-related. They are still trying to determine the cause. The refrigeration unit has two sides, each of which can run independently. The faulty unit has been shut down and the leak stopped.
The employee who was injured is believed to have suffered burns to his face, but Horn wasn’t sure how severe they were. When the incident occurred, the arena was still open as some recreational hockey teams were wrapping up a game, but the rest of the building was closed, with only cleaning staff on hand.
Horn said ammonia is “primarily an irritant,” and so long as those who used the building yesterday left feeling fine, there should be no delayed symptoms from exposure to the fumes.
“If they’re fine now, the concern is gone. The exposure would have been minimal, but we don’t want to dismiss it if someone left with a headache.”
It’s the second time this week that Nelson fire crews have responded to a chemical leak. On Monday, they cordoned off a section of Vernon St. while responding to a home where nitric acid was discovered. Three people were taken to hospital.