Although Kodiak’s harbor does not host large processing ships like the one that leaked in Dutch Harbor, the city still contains large amounts of ammonia.
According to the EPA’s risk management database, Kodiak has the largest concentration of ammonia-using facilities in Alaska.
Six processing plants — Alaska Pacific, Cook Inlet, International Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Trident and Westward — store more than 5 tons of ammonia, used as a refrigerant to flash-freeze fish.
While harmless when contained, ammonia is toxic when inhaled or touched. When breathed in high concentrations, it forms fluid in human lungs, injuring or killing anyone who breathes it.
The Alaska Occupational Safety and Health department performs enforcement and consultation inspections on Kodiak’s processing plants and checks the safety of ammonia during those inspections. No ammonia-specific inspections are done by the state or federal government, though plants perform them unsupervised.
“AKOSH performed two enforcement inspections and three consultation inspections at seafood processors in Kodiak in the past year,” said Grey Mitchell, director for labor standards and safety.
If an incident like Sunday’s spill were to occur in Kodiak, response would be guided by the seven-year-old Kodiak Island Borough Emergency Operations Plan, which outlines the steps and checklists for a hazardous materials incident.
“Local communities should all have a hazard plan that will identify which specific facilities have ammonia,” said Steven Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.
DEC, together with the EPA and local fire departments, responds when spills occur in Alaska.
“We respond to discharges that they have, and have been working with primarily fish processors and cold storage facilities around the state to improve the reporting process,” Russell said.
The state requires any ammonia discharge or hazardous materials discharge to be reported to DEC.
The biggest risk in Kodiak is the proximity of homes and businesses to the processing facilities, whose ammonia storage ranges from a few thousand pounds to 40,000 pounds, Russell said.
“Accidents do happen,” he said. “I would strongly recommend people be aware of the potential in their neighborhoods, and if they’re living next to a processor understand some of the components being used in those areas.”
If an ammonia spill occurred in a fire service area, the Kodiak Fire Department would be the leading commander of the spill, according to the emergency operations plan.
The fire department has the ability to use Kodiak’s siren warning system for incidents involving hazardous substance releases. The signal for a hazardous chemical release resembles a telephone busy signal and lasts for two minutes or longer.
The fire department and city officials have run practice responses over the years to prepare for ammonia spills and other emergency situations.
In February, officials successfully participated in the statewide Alaska Shield 2012 exercise, where an imaginary ammonia tanker rammed into the Kodiak Inn.
The borough’s emergency plan can be found on the borough’s local emergency planning committee webpage.
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kodiak