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Looking West

by: Chaille Jolink

Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:00 AM CDT

This morning at BOR our eyes are upon the communities of Texas that need our help after yesterday's tragic explosion.

First, if you are able you can give blood at the Capitol Area Blood Bank of Central Texas, and please visit the American Red Cross of Central Texas on facebook for more information and other timely updates.

Even as of this morning it is not clear what caused the accident, as CNN reports:  

"What caused the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. was not immediately known. But its location -- next to an apartment complex, a nursing home and a middle school -- did not help matters."

As it turns out, according to Wikipedia, Adair Grain Inc. owner of the West Fertilizer Company was investigated for failing to secure a permit when a neighbor complained about an ammonia smell coming from the plant. According to the Dallas Morning News, "The business stored anhydrous ammonia for sale to farmers. State and federal documents describe West Fertilizer as a seller, not a manufacturer."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigated Adair Grain, Inc. and eventually issued a permit in 2006, yet according to the Dallas Morning News, Texas officials knew that these 12,000 gallon tanks of ammonia were close to homes, a nearby school, and other vulnerable citizens. In fact one of the conditions of the permit by the TCEQ was to build a wall between the fertilizer tanks and a public road nearby, to prevent accidental vehicle collisions which can almost certainly cause explosions.  

These large fertilizer tanks are used as irrigation systems essentially, but contain ammonia, which is a commonly used fertilizer. These tanks are filled with anhydrous ammonia, the commercial term for just plain ammonia without water, which is just a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen (not the liquid from). These tanks, not unlike hot water heaters, need to be kept at a certain internal level of pressure in order stay safe.

Whether or not this tragedy could have been completely prevented remains to be seen. What seems suspect is that the permit process started through a complaint, but according to the DMN there were no public comments for or against the TCEQ permit being issued. Hopefully we will get more information and better news as the day goes on, keeping West and all of Texas in our thoughts and prayers.  


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