A 10-mile stretch of Interstate 12 in St. Tammany and Tangipahoa parishes was shut down for nearly six hours Friday after an ammonia leak at a Goodbee food plant, which led to traffic snarls and minor crashes throughout western St. Tammany Parish.
State Police, whose hazardous materials teams worked to contain the leak at the Diversified Foods facility on La. 1085, closed the interstate about 10:30 a.m. because of winds from the northwest, Trooper Dustin Dwight said.
The closure led to four- and five-mile backups on I-12 and caused snarls on parallel roads such as U.S. 190 near Covington. Troopers worked “a handful” of accidents on the secondary roads but nothing serious, Dwight said.
The St. Tammany school system sent notifications through its smartphone app and a robocall that the delays could affect bus routes and drop-off times after school.
The closure was a precautionary measure in response to the leak, which happened about 8:30 a.m.
Ammonia poses two threats: It can cause harm if inhaled and it can ignite quickly.
Crews from St. Tammany Fire Districts 4 and 13, the State Police, the Department of Environmental Quality and the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office all responded. The plant and the neighboring Champagne Beverage Co. facility were evacuated, but no nearby neighborhoods were in danger, Dwight said.
Two workers at Diversified Foods were transported to St. Tammany Hospital. Both were treated and released, Dwight said.
The leak’s effects were minimized in part by high temperatures and relatively low winds, officials said.
People in the area might detect a slight odor of ammonia in the air, but tests have shown the level is lower than is commonly found in homes, Dwight said. Nevertheless, DEQ personnel planned to remain on the scene throughout the night to monitor levels of the gas.
According to its website, Diversified Foods and Seasonings is a food manufacturing company headquartered in Mandeville, with facilities in Madisonville as well as Alabama and Nebraska. It lists its 93,000-square-foot Madisonville facility as a frozen-foods facility and modern robotic retail line.
The company was founded in 1984 by Al Copeland Sr. to supply Popeyes Fried Chicken. It moved to Madisonville in 2002.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.