A massive chemical spill that sent 40 people to the hospital in a far northern suburb of Chicago illustrates the extreme health hazards of exposure to anhydrous ammonia.
Police and fire crews who responded to a reported vehicle fire in Beach Park, Illinois, in the early morning hours of April 25 encountered plumes of toxic gas escaping from a tractor trailer truck hauling tanks of anhydrous ammonia, which is commonly used in fertilizer. The truck was reportedly en route from Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, to a farm in Northern Illinois.
It’s still unclear what caused the leak, but it was not believed to be the result of a vehicle crash. Forty people, including 11 firefighters and a police officer, were taken to a local hospital, all with varying degrees of respiratory distress. The injured included vehicle occupants who were traveling in the vicinity of the spill and even residents of nearby homes. While most were treated and released, seven people remained in serious to critical condition up to two days after the incident, some on artificial respirators, and their prognosis was uncertain.