Nitrogen leak at Columbus business draws hazmat response
A leaking nitrogen tank at Montana Silversmiths in Columbus last week drew a rapid emergency response and temporarily rerouted traffic .
The problem was reported last Thursday through a 911 call at 6:40 p.m. by a woman who said one of the large tanks between the business and the Cenex was “leaking a smelly gas and hissing loudly,” according to Stillwater County Sheriff’s Dispatch records.
Nitrogen is a colorless, odorless unreactive gas that forms about 78 percent of the earth’s atmosphere. It is found in animal and vegetable tissues, especially in protein and used largely in the manufacturing of ammonia, nitric acid, cyanide, explosives, fertilizer, dyes and as a cooling agent, according to Dictionary.com.
“Due to surrounding equipment in the plant, and not knowing the exact cause of the problem, the fire department and local law enforcement closed down part of Highway 78 and evacuated surrounding buildings, including a couple businesses and local residences,” Montana Silversmiths said in a written statement.
The leak was caused by a nitrogen tank safety valve fail, which was replaced. Montana Silversmiths also are designing a new system to prevent a future issue.
Columbus Fire Rescue, Columbus police and sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene, as did Mt. Silversmith management and the company that services the tank.
After consulting with Billings Hazmat team, Columbus Fire Rescue allowed the tank to drain while keeping traffic at least 300 feet away. Traffic was diverted around Whitlocks.
All emergency crews were clear from the scene by 7:46 p.m.
“Montana Silversmiths would like to reassure the community that there was no harm done and no danger at any time,” said CEO Steve Muellner said in a written release. “The company has an emergency safety plan and procedures were followed according to the plan.”