STRASBURG — A boiler explosion early Friday morning blew out a wall at the Valley Milk Products plant in downtown Strasburg, creating a hazardous ammonia leak.
Several downtown streets were closed for hours and nearby neighbors had to evacuate as hazardous materials crews cleaned up the scene.
No one was injured, and no one was working in the building at the time.
“We are thankful for the swift action of local emergency responders and [town] building officials to ensure our employees are kept safe and minimize impact to the Strasburg community,” said Jay Bryant, CEO of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association, which owns the plant. “While we are still assessing the impact of the explosion, we expect no disruptions to our milk supply.”
The explosion occurred around 3:30 a.m. at the plant at the corner of King and Acton streets, said Shenandoah County Fire and Rescue Department Deputy Chief of Operations Bill Streett.
The Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating to determine the cause of the explosion, Streett said.
Ammonia is used as a cooling agent for the milk. The chemical can cause burns and respiratory problems if inhaled. At 6:30 a.m., ammonia could be smelled a few feet to the west of the plant on East King Street, near the Strasburg Emporium.
Crews were able to control the flow of ammonia by 10:45 a.m.
“That was a major benchmark for us,” Streett said of being able to cut off the supply.
But residual levels of ammonia were still present in pockets of the building at 2 p.m., Streett said. Crews were in a holding pattern monitoring the levels of ammonia while they waited for a private hazmat contractor to take over, Streett said.
The contracted crews were expected to arrive by the evening, Streett said, with the hope of opening roads back up Saturday morning.
East King Street from North Massanutten Street to the intersection of Park Road and U.S. 55 as well as several streets surrounding the plant had been blocked off.
Gas, electric and water flows to the building were shut off, Streett said. Building officials determined the building was not structurally sound, and construction crews were on the scene Friday afternoon to make it safe on a temporary basis.
Power was restored to the area by around 4:30 p.m. and residents had been permitted to return to their homes.
The plant produces various dairy products, such as condensed milks, butter and cream. It employs 18 people.
Several crews from state, regional and local authorities were at the scene, including units from Strasburg, Middletown, Toms Brook, Woodstock, Mount Jackson, Shenandoah County, Hazardous Materials Specialist Milton Painter, Valley Medical Transport, the Shenandoah County Fire Marshal, the Strasburg Police Department, Virginia State Police, the Hazardous Materials unit and Hazmat Operations specialty team from Winchester and Frederick County, Strasburg Public Works Department, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Washington Gas, Shenandoah Valley Electric and Shentel.