April 26, 2013 — Although investigators are still working to determine the cause of a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, there has been increasing scrutiny of highly-flammable ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia. Reuters reported that the facility stored as much as 270 tons of the chemicals on site. For scale, the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 involved 1-2 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. It is unknown how much of the chemical was actually at West Fertilizer at the time of the explosion because all records were lost in the fire.
Ammonium nitrate is not widely-used as a fertilizer in the United States, except in Central Texas, where it is the cheapest and most efficient way to deliver nitrogen to plants growing in the highly-alkaline soil. The liquid chemical is injected directly into the ground, where it vaporizes into a gas that is absorbed by the soil. Residents of West have stated that West Fertilizer Company was providing a “service” to local farmers.
Another reason why ammonium nitrate is less popular as a fertilizer today is due to safety hazards and the burden of federal regulations imposed on companies that store more than 2,000 pounds of the chemical. West Fertilizer was storing 1,350-times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would require regulation by the Department of Homeland Security under anti-terrorism measures. However, DHS was not even aware that West Fertilizer existed.
West Fertilizer was registered with several state and local agencies. One agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), cited West Fertilizer for failing to obtain proper permits and have an adequate risk management plan. The company indicated that there was no risk of explosion.
While it is no secret that ammonium nitrate is highly-flammable, anhydrous ammonia doesn’t burn very easily, but it will ignite at temperatures above 1204˚F. Most of the anhydrous ammonia (meaning “without water”) is stored in high-pressure storage tanks to keep it in a liquid form. If there was a routine fire at the plant and one of the tanks ruptured, it is possible that it could cause a “boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion,” similar to what happens when a propane tank is ruptured.
Do I have a Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Lawsuit?
Our law firm has already been contacted by residents of West, Texas and we are now currently representing a number of victims in the horrible tragedy. If you or somebody you know was harmed by the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, you should contact our lawyers immediately for a free case consultation.
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