By SHAUN HO and JOSHUA FOONG
TANJUNG KARANG: Six people, including a store manager who tried to save a Bangladeshi worker, died from inhaling ammonia that leaked from a faulty refrigeration system at a jetty in Kampung Bagan Pasir here.
Three other Bangladeshi workers who also suffered from the gas leak have been warded at the Tanjung Karang Hospital.
Manager Lim Kian Chew, 35, collapsed after pulling out a Bangladeshi worker who had fainted while working inside a makeshift cooler tank that was used to store fish.
Four other Bangladeshi workers, who joined Lim’s relative Kim Son, 58, and two of his neighbours, Sia Liang Huat, 33, and Gan Ayong, 30, in responding to calls for help, also died in the 8am incident yesterday.
The noxious ammonia was being used as a refrigerant in the cooler tank.
When firefighters arrived at 9am, they found nine people unconscious and foaming at the mouth next to one of the four cooler tanks in the jetty area.
A firefighter said the smell of ammonia was so strong that he could smell it through his breathing apparatus.
The victims were sent to the hospital where six of them were pronounced dead on arrival.
Selangor Fire and Rescue Department director Soiman Jahid told reporters that residents from 15 houses within 100m of the jetty were ordered to evacuate for several hours until the situation was under control.
“This is the first time we have responded to a case like this in Selangor,” he said.
Three fire engines, including a hazardous materials response team (Hazmat) from Section 15, Shah Alam, were dispatched to the emergency.
Water was used to dissolve the gas contained in the faulty cooler tank and later soda ash was applied to neutralise the liquid ammonia.
Kian Chew managed the store for his elder brother Kian Boon, 38, who sells the fish that is used to make fertiliser.
Kian Boon said the cooling system had leaked before, adding that the salt water caused the refrigerator coils to corrode and he spent RM10,000 in April to change the coils.
“The workers knew the gas was poisonous but they did not know how hazardous it was,” he told The Star reporters.
The ABCs of ammonia
AMMONIA is a colourless, highly irritating gas with a pungent, suffocating odour.
Eighty per cent of ammonia produced by industry is used in agriculture as fertiliser.
Ammonia is also used as a refrigerant gas, which was the case in yesterday’s incident in Tanjung Karang where six people died after a leak at a refrigeration facility.
Other uses of ammonia are to purify water and in the manufacture of plastics, explosives, textiles, pesticides, dyes and other chemicals.
It is also found in many household and industrial-strength cleaning solutions.
How ammonia kills
Ammonia acts immediately upon contact with any available moisture in the skin, eyes, respiratory tract, and particularly mucous surfaces to form the very corrosive ammonium hydroxide.
Ammonium hydroxide leads to cellular destruction, causing cell proteins to break down, resulting in inflammation.
Inhalation of lower concentrations can cause coughing, and nose and throat irritation.
Exposure to high concentrations of ammonia causes an immediate burning of the nose, throat and respiratory tract. This can result in respiratory distress or failure.
Ammonia’s odour is highly noticeable due to its stench but it also causes olfactory (smelling) fatigue or adaptation, reducing awareness of one’s prolonged exposure at low concentrations.
What to do if one comes into prolonged contact with ammonia? Ammonia’s effects can be treated.
Wash affected skin and eyes with copious amounts of water.
Ingested liquid ammonia is diluted with milk or water.