• Mitchell Wilkie

Ammonia Refrigerant Incident Study…a leak event every 3.4 days!


For those that notice my LinkedIn postings of ammonia refrigerant leak incidents since 2018, there have been over 30 in Canada and many more globally. A recent American study has identified harmful ammonia refrigerant leak incidents happen about once every 3.4 days! A US Ammonia Incident Database indicates more than 1,500 such events between 2005-2019 which resulted in people being injured and sent to a hospital for treatment. Peter R. Jordan, Senior Principal Engineer, MBD Risk Management Services, Langhorne, Pennsylvania, USA prepared a “Case History: A Study of Incidents in the Ammonia Refrigeration Industry”.

The database identified the most common sectors for ammonia-leak incidents included meat and poultry processing plants (159 incidents), cold storage warehouses (134), and arena ice rinks (103). From examining all incidents, Jordan found that 33% were the result of human error, including 27% attributed to line opening operations, and the rest to transferring liquid, oil draining, and improper valve opening. He found that 36% were due to equipment failure, including faulty equipment, leaks from seals and gaskets, corrosion, and faulty pressure-relief valves. He also observed that 28% of incidents occurred in machinery rooms, 22% in production areas, and half happened outdoors. About 73% of the outdoor leak incidents were from pressure-relief valves, most of which resulted in injuries. Other incident causes included commissioning and decommissioning ammonia refrigeration systems (6%), forklift accidents hitting ammonia vessels and piping (6%), fires (5%), and structural or building failures (3%).

Jordan suggested several ideas to minimize these incident risks. He also recommended that the industrial sector adopt designs that “minimize the total ammonia charge” and “eliminate the use of ammonia equipment outside of machinery rooms.” While these suggestions were all good, my recommendation is to eliminate the use of deadly ammonia refrigerants overall. There are excellent alternatives available like TRAK’s HVAC/R Smart Energy Systems that are also much more energy efficient.

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