Tragic Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion Raises Questions, No Answers Yet

Texas Fertilizer Plant Explosion 2

With mainstream media outlets jumping all over anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate fertilizer as possible causes of the tragic West Fertilizer Co. plant explosion, fertilizer industry leadership is urging patience and open-mindedness as the investigation proceeds.

“We have no official statement at the moment,” says Kevin Runkle director of regulatory affairs, Illinois Fertilizer And Chemical Association (IFCA). “Like CropLife America, the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) and The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), we’re still waiting to see what the investigators say. The fire has finally quelled a little bit and they are just now able to get into the facility and start investigating.”

According to Runkle, at present there are just too many variables at play in a comingled facility such as the West Fertilizer Co. facility, operated by Adair Grain Inc. and located in West, TX, a rural community about 20 miles north of Waco.

“I believe the local volunteer fire department was responding to a fire at the facility two hours prior to the explosion, and it looks like that fire got out of control and an explosion occurred due to that fire,” he says. “It looks like this was a grain terminal and ag retail facility rolled into one, so it could have been many different things that caused the explosion. 

What is known about the facility so far is this: a 2006 EPA inspection report resulted in the company receiving a $2,300 fine for not having a risk management plan in place that met federal standards. A separate report highlights EPA documents submitted by the company that estimate the worst-possible scenario of an anhydrous ammonia release from its tanks as “a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.”

Additionally, WacoTrib.com is reporting that in February there was a fire at the plant that resulted in the evacuation of nearby West Intermediate School.

Again, Runkle points out the cause of the explosion has not yet officially been found.

“The media reports all mention anhydrous ammonia being at that facility, and that the emergency responders had concerns about that product, which they should because it is a hazardous material, but right now we need to wait until the investigators find out what caused the explosion because there are just too many variables to make any type of assessment.”

In the meantime, Runkle and IFCA continue to stress the implementation of a full suite of emergency/disaster preparedness plans for all ag retail facilities.

“Anything an ag retail facility can do to proactively address any risks or issues associated with preventing a fire, that’s one of the best things they can do and there are tools out there to help them do that,” says Runkle. “In Illinois, we have a fire prevention plan for ag retailers to use, to go through and assess the potential hazards and dangers associated with a fire occurring, or how to prevent a fire from occurring.

“There are other proactive steps that facilities can take: security measures, fire prevention, hazard review and compliance assessment plans, weekly inspections of the facility and equipment and good housekeeping programs that show the public that they are being proactive in preventing something like this from happening again. These tools are readily available. The Asmark Institute has them available. We at IFCA have them available that we developed for our members here in Illinois that they can use to go in and assess any kinds of hazards or dangers associated with a fire occurring at their facility and to reduce those risks.”

Also important for ag retailers is getting out in front of any possible backlash from local media, citizens or activist groups while the investigation plays out in national headlines.

“We need to assure the public that we’re being proactive to prevent something like this from happening,” he advises. “In terms of communication, probably the best thing to do is keep your neighbors informed ahead of time and work closely with them in the event that there is an emergency. From what we can tell, they are doing the best they can down in Texas. The emergency responders evacuated people and got them out of there and did what they were supposed to do. “

In an email sent this morning to its members, Kathy Mathers, TFI vice president of public affairs, says the organization will refrain from commenting “while we have no specific information on the incident.”

UPDATED AT 2:50 p.m.:

The following information has been released by TFI and the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA):

TFI: Fertilizer Talking Points and Fact

ARA: Crisis Communications Guidelines for responding to Press Inquiries

Leave a Reply

Fertilizer Stories

FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
Aerial view of the West Fertilizer explosion site
FertilizerFertilizer Companies Blame City For West, TX, Explosion
August 6, 2014
El Dorado Chemical Co. and CF Industries contend the city failed to properly train the first responders and had insufficient protocols in place to battle the April 17, 2013, blaze at West Fertilizer Co. that triggered the explosion. Read More
FertilizerThe Fertilizer Institute: New President, Renewed Energy
February 3, 2014
Chris Jahn relishes the opportunity to lead the organization through the challenging times ahead. Read More
FertilizerA New Cycle For Fertilizer Demand
January 2, 2014
Changes in the corn market could have a major impact on the crop nutrients sector in 2014, say experts. Read More

Trending Articles

Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
The deadline to vote for the 2014 CropLife IRON Product of the Year is October 31. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

CropLife 100ValueAct Buys Stake In Fertilizer Dealer Agrium
October 30, 2014
ValueAct has bought 8.2 million shares in Calgary, Alberta-based Agrium, making them the second largest investor in the fertilizer dealer. Read More
InsecticidesNew Research Study Shows The Value Of Neonics
October 29, 2014
The study evaluated seed treatment, soil and foliar uses of neonicotinoid insecticides in the U.S. and Canada. Read More
StewardshipUSDA To Provide $4 Million For Honey Bee Habitat
October 29, 2014
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that more than $4 million in technical and financial assistance will be provided to Read More
Crop InputsValent Launches New Low VOC ProGibb LV Plus Plant Growt…
October 29, 2014
ProGibb LV Plus PGR is a high-potency, liquid gibberellic acid formulation designed to comply with California’s new air quality standards for high volatile organic compound agricultural products. Read More
Crop InputsBayer CropScience Acquires Certain DuPont Crop Protecti…
October 29, 2014
Bayer CropScience and DuPont Crop Protection have signed an agreement for Bayer to purchase certain DuPont Crop Protection Land Management assets in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. Read More
ManagementWest Central Names New President
October 29, 2014
West Central’s board of directors have announced their unanimous decision to name Milan Kucerak President and CEO-elect following Jeff Stroburg’s retirement at the end of the fiscal year. Read More
InsecticidesValent U.S.A., MGK Form Marketing Agreement
October 24, 2014
Valent has formed an agreement with Minneapolis-based MGK to manage the marketing and sales of MGK’s crop protection line of insect control products within the U.S. beginning April 1, 2015. Read More
StewardshipFlorida’s 4R Advocate Keeps Improving
October 24, 2014
Florida farmer Alan Jones uses the 4R principles of nutrient stewardship as the core of his fertility program, which allows him to maximize production and keep costs in check. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Named One Of The World’s Best Multinational …
October 23, 2014
Monsanto ranked No. 8 in the world’s largest annual study of workplace excellence that identifies the top 25 best multinational companies in terms of workplace culture. Read More
Crop InputsArysta Hires Former Agri-Chem, CPS Employee For Delta S…
October 23, 2014
New Territory Sales Manager Mark Peel’s primary role will focus on working with growers regarding fungicides in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Announces Appointments In Plant Food Division
October 22, 2014
GROWMARK, Inc. has announced the three key staff changes in its Plant Food Division. Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Appoints New VP Of Finance And Risk Management
October 22, 2014
Wade Mittelstadt has been named GROWMARK Vice President, Financial and Risk Mangement, effective December 1, 2014. Read More
FungicidesEPA Approves BASF In-Furrow Corn Fungicide
October 22, 2014
Field trials show Xanthion In-furrow fungicide provides more rapid emergence, extended residual control and improved seedling health than untreated crops. Read More
EquipmentAgraScout App Available At No Cost To Universities
October 21, 2014
AgraScout, a fast and easy to use mobile crop scouting app, is now available at no cost to University students, Read More
LegislationNew Farm Bill Program To Provide Relief To Farmers Affe…
October 21, 2014
The USDA has implemented a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. Read More
ManagementGreenfield Scholars Program Aims To Sustain Agronomy Wo…
October 21, 2014
The program encourages talented students to study agronomy, crop and soil sciences while cultivating networks to develop the necessary workforce to sustain the profession. Read More
Paul SchrimpfPrecision Ag: Taking It To The Hill
October 21, 2014
A new coalition took the good news message of precision agriculture to Washington, DC, last month. Read More
ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million In Small Business Research Gran…
October 21, 2014
The grants will provide high quality, advanced research and development that will lead to technological innovations and solutions for American agriculture. Read More