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Ammonia Leak Prompts NuLu Shelter Order

Grocers Ice bldg
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A suspected leak of anhydrous ammonia prompted a shelter-in-place order in the NuLu neighborhood in east downtown on Wednesday.

The Louisville Metro Fire Department arrived at the former Grocers Ice building at 609 E. Main Street at 10:30 a.m. after reports of a strong odor in the building. MetroSafe issued the order for people in the area to stay indoors shortly after noon.

At about 5:30 on Wednesday evening, officials reduced the shelter order to just the block where the building is located. No injuries have been reported.

Fire department spokesman Sal Melendez told WFPL News there is no danger outside the building, and that the levels of ammonia in the building — which firefighters have been ventilating — have diminished over the course of the day.

“There was a strong odor initially, which is why we issued the shelter-in-place warning," Melendez says. "But it does not pose a threat.”

Anhydrous ammonia can cause problems with eyes and the respiratory system.

The building is abandoned and is owned by the state transportation cabinet. A spokesman declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, saying the agency was gathering more information.

The Grocers Ice and Cold Storage building was built in 1906 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It had been used as industrial cold storage up until 2009, according to Melendez. The transportation cabinet acquired the property as part of the Ohio River Bridges Project.

According to Melendez, a 2011 fire department inspection did not find dangerous chemicals -- including anhydrous ammonia -- inside the building. He said that was the last fire department inspection conducted there.

June 2016 environmental assessment commissioned by the transportation cabinet found tanks and piping that had contained anhydrous ammonia for cold storage still inside the building. However, assessors were not able to determine whether the chemical was still inside the equipment.

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.