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Potential for an ammonia leak at AVIS Alaska Sports Complex

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -The University of Alaska Anchorage Incident Management Team said they discovered Friday the potential for an ammonia leak, leading to the evacuation and closure of three buildings and two sections of the inconic walkway known as the Spine. Those sections are the parts leading to the Student Union and the AVIS Alaska Sports Comlex.

There was an ammonia leak on campus earlier in May, said Ryan Buchholdt, UAA’s vice chancellor for Administrative Services. A crew was isolating and working on remediation steps and repairs on that incident when Buchholdt said maintenance workers became concerned over the potential for another leak. Buchholdt said workers alerted campus leadership for the potential of a new leak, leading to them working with municipal and a hazardous materials team to understand risks associated with the potential leak.

There is no active leak, Buchholdt said, and the university is taking an “abundance of caution,” if there’s another gas release.

“With summer weather they were worried that the pressure could rise,” Buchholdt said. “If it started to leak again it could cascade.”

The recent, potential leak stemmed from the ice plant system which is used to maintain the ice in the AVIS Alaska Sports Complex on campus. Buildings and walkways within roughly 200 feet of the system are now closed: The AASC, Student Union, General Support Services and Enrollment Services building are all closed until further notice.

Buchholdt described ammonia as a toxic, fast-acting gas with corrosive effects.

“Ammonia is a very hazardous gas,” he said. “If you breathe it in it can damage your lungs. It can kill. It’s also a very corrosive gas so it can eat through metal fairly quickly if it’s not controlled.”

According to Buchholdt, all of the ammonia is contained within the ice plant itself, which means if there is a leak it will be contained within the building unless it escapes.

“One of our concerns is, if it’s a slow leak becomes manageable, if it’s a large release that’s something that could get outside of the facility and be a danger to the campus population,” he said.

Buchholdt said UAA prides itself on making sure the community is safe and responsive when there is a safety concern. The Incident Management Team said they have not identififed public health risks. The Anchorage Fire Department, which is helping assist with the situation, said Saturday that they’ve discussed potential outcomes and don’t have critical concerns. The IMT said they’re continuing to actively respond to and invesetigate the potential for a leak. here were people in the area at the time of the potential leak, but UAA moved some scheduled events to other buildings on campus.

Buchholdt maintains that risk remains until a contractor comes to address issues in the ice plant system. He said UAA has experienced difficulties getting a contractor on site to pull ammonia from the ice plant system and plans to have one on Monday or Tuesday.

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