Ammonia threat hinders meatpacking district development

Business owners in one of Copenhagen’s trendiest districts say they are hamstrung by concerns about the safety of its ammonia cooling system

An old ammonia-driven cooling system underneath Copenhagen’s historic meat packing district, Kødbyen, is still giving business owners and party promoters in the trendy club and restaurant area headaches – not from ammonia poisoning, but from lost business revenue.

A group of eight business owners with new storefront leases in Kødbyen have been prevented from opening shop for more than nine months, while the city’s environmental team assesses the risks of a dangerous ammonia leak, reports Politiken newspaper.

That assessment was first supposed to be finished last November. Then it was delayed until February. Now the city’s real estate department, Københavns Ejendomme (KE), which manages Kødbyen, is saying it will not be finished until June at the earliest.

Among the businesses affected are a chocolate company, a wine bar, a steakhouse, and a nightclub. KE recently gave KB3, the nightclub, permission to open, but the other businesses are still waiting for the city to finish its risk assessment for their spaces.

Last year the chocolate company, A XOCO, decided to move its production from Frederiksberg to a 450 square metre storefront space in Kødbyen, where they could also run a retail boutique and chocolate-making workshops. They were told they would have to wait a couple months for the city’s environmental department to finish its assessment of the ammonia danger. But now that wait has turned into the better part of a year.

“It’s meant an income loss for us. How large is hard to say since we hadn’t opened yet. But there’s been a lot of interest,” said A XOCO spokesperson Stine Lomholt.

In November, Saltorp told Politiken that the actual risk of an ammonia leak was minimal, but that separate risk assessments had to be made for every shop space due to the highly dangerous nature of the ammonia.

The estimated 12,000 tonnes of ammonia under Kødbyen are harmless as long as they remain contained in the old copper pipes that used to cool the district. But if one of those old pipes should spring a leak, the flammable and toxic ammonia would pose a grave threat in the populous district.

Removing the ammonia from the pipes could cost the city as much as 100 million kroner, so instead, it has chosen to run risk assessments and implement emergency plans. In the meantime, established restaurants, shops and galleries in the popular district have remained open. But large-scale events, such as the “Nordic Taste” gourmet food fair and music raves that were successes for Kødbyen last year, had to be cancelled this year, further hampering the area’s development.

“It certainly isn’t in the interests of [the city] or the environmental authorities to drag this case out forever, but preparing the necessary safety documentation for Kødbyen has turned out to be much more complicated than we expected,” Gyrithe Saltorp, KE's manager told Politiken.

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