Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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April 18, 2013

WEST EXPLOSION: Incidents rare among fertilizer plants

Corsicana — An explosion like the one at the West Fertilizer plant is incredibly unusual, according to local fertilizer companies in Navarro County.

“All the conditions have to be perfectly right for the anhydrous ammonia to blow up,” explained Matt Murray, owner of ABC in Corsicana. “The fertilizer isn’t considered an explosive. It’s just there’s things you can do with it to make it explode. It’s simply an oxidizer.”

Until more details are known, it’s unclear what caused the materials at the West Fertilizer plant to detonate Wednesday, but it’s not something people have to fear here.

“We don’t even have any of those here in Corsicana. There are fertilizer plants here, but we don’t have any anhydrous ammonia tanks here,” Murray said.

On July 30, 2009, the El Dorado fertilizer plant warehouse in Bryan caught fire, and although the site had anhydrous ammonia tanks, those did not blow, according to articles in The Eagle, the newspaper of Bryan-College Station, which covered the fire. The worst damage from that fire was skin and respiratory irritation to firefighters, although officials took the precaution of evacuating an 8-mile radius around the plant, The Eagle reported.

For now, the operators of fertilizer companies can only wait and see how the incident happened.

“We’re waiting to see what happened down there,” said Todd McGraw, manager of Williams Gin in Frost.

Williams Gin does have some of the anhydrous ammonia tanks, but unlike West, those are outside of town.

“This is a common product used by farmers around the world for fertilizer,” McGraw said. “It used to be you could buy it in a bag at Walmart. After the Oklahoma City bombing they stopped selling it in 50-pound bags.”

“It’s not a common thing that happened down there,” McGraw said.

The West Fertilizer Co. which blew up Wednesday night is an anhydrous ammonia facility, according to Trooper D.L. Wilson, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Anhydrous ammonia, a liquid source of nitrogen, is applied directly by farmers to the soil to boost crop yields, according to reports by the Bloomberg News.

West Fertilizer, a subsidiary of Adair Grain, had as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia at the site, according to an emergency planning report filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, and cited by the Dallas Morning News.

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Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” to this article? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

 

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