West Fertilizer Disaster Leads To Quest For Answers

Now one month removed from the event, the plant fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. facility in West, TX, continues to receive a great deal of attention. This is clear not only of the continuing coverage of the event in the mass media, but our own enewsletters/Website data, where any mention of West Fertilizer seems to spurring massive amounts of click-throughs and re-Tweets.

At its heart, this quest for answers is likely being motivated by a need to re-visit fertilizer handling and safety protocols at ag retail establishments. And perhaps to those of you in-the-know, this fact shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Indeed, according to a few e-mailers who’ve sent us notes over the past few weeks, fertilizer handling safety hasn’t always been treated in an altogether serious fashion over the years.

“Over 40-plus years in the business, I have been in ‘safety’ meetings that were handled as jokes – as ways to work around a regulation, as anti-government/anti-regulation/anti-insurance carrier symposiums,” wrote one e-mailer. “I wanted to smack the folks in the front of the room with a mallet!”

Others have written to us asking for answers to some fertilizer safety questions, such as the proper clean-up procedure for removing nitrate from the floor where the hydraulic hose has broken. “Should you dilute it with something like cat litter? Where do you put the sweepings? How do you dispose of it and how quickly?” wrote one e-mailer. “I’d like to see the answers to that in CropLife magazine.”

To quote a genie in a bottle, wish granted. As I write this column, CropLife is preparing a special report for our July 2013 edition focusing on safety and security at the dealership level, which will address these kinds of questions and more. To put this together, we are enlisting the aid of several leading ag retailer safety experts and fertilizer industry insiders.

It is our hope that providing this kind of information will help prevent a similar such disaster from occurring in the future. One e-mailer said it best: “There is zero room for cavalier attitudes when it comes to honesty, integrity and ignorance. We should ALL embrace responsibility and integrity as an industry.”

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