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The fertilizer plant that exploded Wednesday night in West, Texas, reported to the Environmental Protection Agency and local public safety officials that it presented no risk of fire or explosion, documents show.
West Fertilizer Co. reported having as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on hand in an emergency planning report required of facilities that use toxic or hazardous chemicals.
But the report, reviewed Wednesday night by The Dallas Morning News, stated “no” under fire or explosive risks. The worst possible scenario, the report said, would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.
The second worst possibility projected was a leak from a broken hose used to transfer the product, again causing no injuries.
The plan says the facility did not have any other dangerous chemicals on hand. It says that the plan was on file with the local fire department and that the company had implemented proper safety rules.
Advisories on safe handling of anhydrous ammonia generally state that the chemical is not considered an explosion risk when in the air as a gas. They add, however, that it can explode in certain concentrations inside a container.
“Emergency responders should not mix water used for firefighting directly with anhydrous ammonia as this will result in warming of the product, causing the liquid to turn into a vapor cloud,” says the website of Calamco, a growers’ cooperative in California.Explosive hazards with fertilizer are more commonly linked to ammonium nitrate, which is widely used both in agriculture and as an explosive in construction and mining. A mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil was used to make the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City 18 years ago Friday.
In 2006, the West plant was cited for failing to obtain or to qualify for a permit.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigated West Fertilizer in June 2006, after receiving a complaint of a strong ammonia smell.
Agency records show that the person who lodged the complaint said a lingering ammonia smell was "very bad."
By RANDY LEE LOFTIS RANDY LEE LOFTIS The Dallas Morning News. The Associated Press contributed to this report.