Friday, April 19, 2013

Could Your Town Explode?

The fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, on Wednesday (April 17) is bringing increased attention to the thousands of facilities nationwide that store or manufacture fertilizer, especially ammonium nitrate, an explosive chemical often used in agricultural fertilizers. [LiveScience.comInfographic: Why Fertilizer Is Dangerous]

Ammonium nitrate is believed to be the cause of the fireball that was seen about two hours after the blaze started on Wednesday (April 17) evening. In February, Adair Grain (the owner of the West Fertilizer Co. fertilizer plant) informed the Texas Department of Health Services that it was storing up to 270 tons of ammonium nitrate at the facility.

The West, Texas, plant is just one of about 6,000 facilities scattered across the country — located in residential neighborhoods, small towns and urban areas — that manufacture, store or sell ammonium nitrate products, a spokeswoman for the Fertilizer Institute, an industry trade group, told NBC.

And most county and municipal zoning regulations don't prevent these facilities from being located near schools, hospitals, homes or other businesses. The nursing home and school damaged by the explosion in West were built several years after the fertilizer plant began operating about 50 years ago.

The explosion in West is not an isolated incident. In 2011, a chemical plant explosion in nearby Waxahachie forced the evacuation of about 1,000 residents, according to the Dallas Morning News, including people living in houses that were just 100 feet (30 meters) away.

Around the world, ammonium nitrate has been implicated in dozens of deadly explosions in recent years, including the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history when almost 600 people died in Texas City, Texas, after two ships carrying the chemical exploded in 1947.

The West, Texas, explosion points to the need for stricter regulation of plants that manufacture, store and use large quantities of hazardous chemicals.

Modern conservatives ignore the failures of their generally accepted conservative principles, like deregulation, as enacted over the last several decades. Republicans claim that eliminating government regulations will unleash business and create jobs. We did deregulate, but it didn’t create jobs. It did, however, create a worsening of our environment. Deregulation also created the worst financial disaster since the great depression. 

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