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Water valve failure leads to ammonia release at Perham Egg

A safety system at Perham Egg early Sunday afternoon released ammonia gas into the air and prompted the Perham Fire Department and other emergency personnel to respond.

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An area around the Perham Egg plant at 515 4th Street NE was blocked off Sunday afternoon after a water valve failure in the plant triggered a safety system which released some ammonia from the refrigeration system. Brian Hansel/FOCUS

A safety system at Perham Egg early Sunday afternoon released ammonia gas into the air and prompted the Perham Fire Department and other emergency personnel to respond.

Streets near the plant, located at 515 4th Street NE, were blocked off and nearby residents living nearby were advised to go inside their homes.

"One of the firemen came up and said 'you might want to go inside for a bit,'" said Amber Shaw, who lives on 5th Avenue, north of the plant with her husband and their two children. "We couldn't even smell it."

The Shaws were told it would be safe for them to come out again in a half-hour.

Julia Leroux and her husband were not at home when the streets were cordoned off. She said they encountered barricades at the Perham Library, north of the plant, to East Park, east of their residence.

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"I did not know what was going on," Leroux said when they encountered the commotion around the plant. She was scheduled for an evening shift at Shearer's Snacks and wanted to get some sleep before going to work.

"It was very inconvenient," she said.

The Leroux's went to the Subway Restaurant on Third Avenue SE and waited there until they were able to go home.

Mark Kalina was putting some groceries away at Mark's Dear Camp, a daycare he and his wife operate at Fifth Street NE Sunday afternoon, when he noticed activity around the plant.

"There were two fire trucks and two ambulances, and they all had their lights on," Kalina said.

Kalina could see eight firemen near the plant dressed in their gear, but he did not see them wearing masks.

Kalina said he was "a little concerned" at first, but traffic was normal and the firemen appeared to be conferring. Later, he received an automated call informing him the situation had been resolved.

Perham Egg General Manager Troy Thompson said Monday morning that a water valve failure triggered the alert.

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"We actually had a water valve fail and that caused our ammonia system to shut down," Thompson said. "That set off a release valve for ammonia."

Thompson said ammonia is used in the plant as a refrigeration coolant.

No one was in the plant when the alarm was triggered. Perham Egg employees usually work Monday through Friday.

"The alarm went off, and it calls people into take care of the issue," Thompson said. "The relief valve is in place, so you do not have an actual ammonia leak and it worked as it should have."

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