Teenager drills a hole in ammonia pipeline, forcing evacuation

Published 14 November 2007

Three teenagers believed money was hidden in 6-inch-diameter ammonia pipeline, so they drilled a hole in it; cloud of amonia forces evacuation, road closure

There are all kinds of risks which the U.S. critical infrastructure faces. Here is one example: Around 5:30 Monday evening a teenage boy drilled a hole in a 6-inch-diameter ammonia pipeline running alongside Highway 301 near Tampa, Florida. The ensuing leak burned the teen and sent white clouds of the hazardous chemical slowly rolling downstream. The pipeline has been shut off, but residual amounts of the chemical were still seeping out late yesterday. Fire crews are continuing to disperse the leak by spraying it with water. Many residents have been allowed to return home since evacuation orders were issued Monday evening, but those who live within a quarter-mile of the leak are still under an evacuation order, as are residents of the Alafia Mobile Home Park. Monday night’s evacuees were directed to the nearby Riverview Elementary School. Traffic through the area could remain a mess for some time. Ammonia is a nonflammable chemical that can cause severe burns upon close exposure and respiratory problems for those even far from the source. Four firefighters had to be hospitalized Monday night for exposure to the acrid gas.

The teenager who allegedly started the leak was charged with criminal mischief after being taken to Tampa General Hospital for treatment of chemical burns over 18 percent of his body. Investigators say that he and two friends were looking for money that was rumored to be in the pipe. The teen, whom police declined to identify, could face felony charges. The pipeline goes to a phosphate plant in Polk County where the ammonia is used to make fertilizer. Its operator, Tampa Pipeline, said the chemical flow was reduced after the leak was detected, and cut off soon after. Officials say the ammonia will be absorbed into the river water. Experts from the Coast Guard and the state Department of Environmental Protection are on the scene to assess the environmental impact. Overnight repairs to the pipe were unsuccessful, so crews will wait until the pressure inside diminishes before attempting another fix. That could take another 24 to 36 hours.