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Ammonia Explosion And The West Fertilizer Company

1315 words - 5 pages

West, Texas is a town located in McLennan County in the central part of Texas. It has a population of around 2,800 people. During the evening of Wednesday the 17th April of 2013 a massive explosion occurred in the small town. The West Fertilizer Company; which is owned by Adair Grain Inc. which had stockpiles of anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate amongst other agricultural items; was the center and cause of the blast. It is not the first time that an explosion such as this has happened in the state of Texas; in 1947 in Texas city, Texas an explosion that caused nearly 600 deaths had ammonia as a key part in the blast (Jonsson, 2013).
Anhydrous ammonia is stored as a liquid in pressurized tanks and after it has been sold to local farmers, they use it by injecting it directly into their soil where it then turns into a gas. It has a melting point of around -108 degrees Fahrenheit and an explosive range between a Lower explosive limit (LEL) of 15% and an Upper explosive limit (UEL) of 28% when mixed in air. Ammonium nitrate is typical found and used in its prill form where it is spread across the fields as a fertilizer. Ammonium Nitrate does not typical, under normal circumstances, pose an explosive hazard alone by itself but when combined with some sort of fuel it will act as an oxidizer during that process, literally adding fuel to the fire. “Both of these common fertilizers can become explosive under the right conditions.” (Fernandez & Schwartz, 2013)
The West Fertilizer Company began its operation in the small town that it took its name sake from in 1962. It was licensed, permitted and inspected by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to name a few of the regulatory agencies with oversight. The West Fertilizer Company itself does not actually produce products, but instead stores the material at its site for resale to local farmers (Fernandez & Schwartz, 2013). The plant itself has had a history of issues in the years prior to the April 2013 explosion with some of these agencies.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration last inspected the plant twenty nine years ago, in 1985. In that inspection the agency found five “serious” violations to include some involving its improper storage of its anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate stock piles. The West Fertilizer Company was fined thirty dollars for those violations. In June of 2012 the company was fined $5250 by the federal Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration for more violations involving the handling of their stockpile of anhydrous ammonia. “An OSHA spokesman said the plant was not included in its so-called National Emphasis Plan for inspections because it did not produce explosives, had no major prior accidents and the E.P.A. did not rate it as a major risk.” (Fernandez & Schwartz, 2013)
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