Round Rock residents return home after ammonia leak


by Heather Kovar // @HeatherS_KVUE & Photojournalist Chris Shadrock // KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherK_KVUE

Posted on July 20, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 20 at 10:47 PM

ROUND ROCK -- Round Rock residents returned home Saturday night after an ammonia leak locked them out of their neighborhood for hours.

Just before two o'clock Saturday, a tank that holds ammonia used as a refridgerant starting leaking at the Michael Angelo's frozen Italian food plant.

The Round Rock Fire Department and Williamson County hazardous material teams responded, and found a large tank leaking ammonia into a containment area. Ammonia vapor was also escaping. About 20 employees of the facility were evacuated.

The leak is now contained in a room, but it took crews all day to neutralize the threat. That's because haz-mat workers could only be exposed to the chemical for about 20 minutes at a time.

Communications Director for the city of Round Rock Will Hampton describes ammonia as a dangerous substance. He said they took every precaution. Williamson County haz-mat, Austin haz-mat and the Austin Fire Department rotated in to relieve Round Rock.

Upwind residents were told to shut doors and windows and shut off their air conditioning units. Roads were closed, and some people couldn't get home.

Resident Damon Miller said "I left, then I came back and they told me I couldn't come back because of an ammonia leak. In the industrial part. That's it. Said it would be a few hours before we could get in."

Others couldn't get to work, or leave work. "I'm just trying to get to work, they can't get home," said Craig Lombardi. He works at an area security company. "I can't imagine if they put in a day of work today and they're driving home to relax and now can't get in."

Just before seven residents were allowed to turn their air conditioning back on.
Round Rock also used air monitors on vehicles to check air quality. They wanted to make sure there wasn't any significant release of the vapor.

There were no injuries. Some roads remained closed, and the Fire Department is asking people not to linger outside for too long as a precaution. The amount of ammonia leaked is not known.

The shelter in place request was lifted just before 7 p.m. and most nearby roads were open by 8 p.m.

This isn't the first time the plant has made news following an accident. In June of 2003, 34-year-old employee Daniel Romero Cruz died when he was pulled into a meat grinder he was cleaning.

Michael Angelo's did not face criminal charges, but in 2008 the Travis County District Attorney's office reached an agreement that required the company to pay $375 thousand to fund work improvement programs.
The company was also ordered to undergo more safety reviews and hold worker safety classes.