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Anhydrous ammonia leak contained in west Dickinson

Emergency responders and Stark County Sheriff's Office personnel converged on the Baker Boy complex west of Dickinson Monday morning.

An anhydrous ammonia leak at an industrial park on Dickinson's west side temporarily closed down Highway 10 and left area residents with a "shelter-in-place" order from Stark County.

The Stark County Sheriff's Office, Dickinson Police Department and Dickinson Rural Fire Department responded to a 911 call from Baker Boy just before 10 a.m., said Stark County Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing.

"We sent out a shelter-in-place reverse 911 message shortly after the call for residents in the affected area, which was immediately downwind from the Baker Boy facility," Fahlsing said. "We advised residents to close their doors and windows and to shut off their heating and cooling systems."

Fahlsing said the message was lifted about an hour after it was initially sent out.

The only injury reported from the incident as of Monday evening was a "minor injury" suffered by an unidentified Baker Boy technician, said Guy Moos, the company's president and CEO. The individual was treated at Work Partners of North Dakota in Dickinson and released back to work, according to a Baker Boy release.

Moos indicated that a leak was detected during a routine maintenance check on an ammonia refrigeration system at about 9:45 a.m. One of the system's valves malfunctioned, sending approximately 200 pounds of ammonia spilling onto a floor within the facility, said Moos and emergency responders.

"Our refrigeration technicians remedied the leak fairly quickly," Moos said. "While that was going, we contacted Stark County emergency management. The emergency personnel responded very quickly and we would like to thank them for their prompt response. Their quick response prevented a minor incident from escalating into a larger event."

Dickinson Rural Fire Department Chief Andy Paulson said his crew was at the scene for about an hour.

Dickinson police officers blocked off Highway 10 for motorists attempting to take the road west out of Dickinson at about 10 a.m., though the corridor was reopened in a matter of minutes.

Terry O'Clair of the North Dakota Department of Health's Air Quality Division lauded Baker Boy technicians and emergency responders for their quick response.

"The amount that was spilled was not a huge amount, but anhydrous has an affinity for water and that's what makes it dangerous," O'Clair said. "If you breathe it in, it combines with the liquid in your nasal passages and can burn. It's good news that it was taken care of quickly. You certainly know it's there because the ammonia smell is a distinct odor."

Moos said a number of areas at the Baker Boy complex -- including the front office, mechanical room, break room and restrooms -- were evacuated Monday morning, though parts of the facility remained running. Moos said the entire complex was up and running as of Monday afternoon.

A Baker Boy employee who wished not to be identified said the smell of ammonia was thick around the industrial park as he was heading in for the beginning of his shift sometime before 10 a.m. Monday.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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