West Fertilizer Disaster: Employing The Lessons Learned

Arguably, nobody in agriculture fielded more calls from retailers and the media in the wake of the West Fertilizer disaster than Allen Summers, president of the Asmark Institute. That’s what happens when you’ve seen virtually everything that can be seen in ag retail, and channel that knowledge and experience toward helping retailers understand and manage the myriad regulations and best practices that help protect our communities and businesses.

After the initial tidal wave of calls began to subside (“I was on the phone non-stop for days … I was even getting calls in the evening at home,” says Summers), he shared some of his thoughts on the whole experience.

Q. What’s been your take on the coverage of the disaster?
Allen Summers: It’s been interesting that ammonium nitrate is not taking a hit so much as the entire fertilizer industry. A preception has developed of the loose network of regulatory requirements that make it appear that there was very little oversight of the plant. And the other thing that’s confusing the issue is the notion that there are outliers in the industry, businesses operating off the grid so to speak, and that West was an outlier. When you ask someone, “who do you consider an outlier?” they will tell you that it is somebody that is not a member of the national or state association. They will say that it’s some “tin shed” trying to get around the rules. That does not describe the West Fertilizer facility — it was a member of the state association. And while they did not have a spotless record of compliance, it was a farmer that bought the facility in 2004 and he had some catching up to do.

Q. Are most retailers as connected as they should be with local emergency response people?
AS: A high percentage of the retail plants have some type of communication with the fire department. After the explosion, Crop Production Services in Summerdale, AL, actually called the fire department and went over things with them right away — they do training every year anyway, but they wanted to bring the emergency responders in for a better understanding now that the West, TX, tragedy occurred. TV cameras followed him in, and they did a great job.

Larger organizations with people assigned to work with local emergency response usually have a form that requires emergency plans be signed off by the fire department. Some smaller independents do not have anyone help them to do that. Hopefully this raised the awareness for facilities to preplan with their responses to a greater degree, even if they have a fire prevention plan in place.

Q. What are retailers asking for help with?
AS: People have been calling for additional copies of their emergency plans to post in trucks, take home with them and to give to fire departments. There is definitely a renewed consciousness occurring. We’re getting calls to review proper ammonium nitrate storage, am I in a tier or not … mostly, no one wants to be caught not doing what they are supposed to be doing because they didn’t know. Especially true, they don’t want to be in the position of thinking they did the right thing only to be wrong.

A lot of the calls were precipitated by someone who stored ammonium nitrate and the sequence of events scared them … they did not think it was an act of terror, and it made no sense that it would just explode. We had many conversations about what was thought to have happened there, that it might be possible for an explosion to occur based on circumstances at the facility, and that diesel fuel and a match were not required to cause the explosion — despite what most in the ag industry believe. It alarmed enough people that they came out of the woodwork to ask questions.

Q. What do you see as the most important aspects of facility safety and security?
AS: The number one action that helps security is conscientiousness from the facility about keeping doors locked and gates closed, valves locked, product not in an open doorway. If there is an overall awareness of security, if it is engrained in the culture, the facility will be safer and more secure. Since the West, TX, explosion, we as an industry will be asked to demonstrate that we can handle agricultural inputs, some of which can be dangerous, responsibly.

As for the actual facility, proper lighting makes the biggest impact on improving site security. Cameras will gain more acceptance with the price point dropping a lot over the past decade, but you need to maintain them, and image quality can limit their usefulness — it will tell you that something happened, but not provide you with a clear image of the perpetrator.

What we don’t want are unintended negative consequences. Signage, for example, is required for buildings containing restricted-use pesticides. National Fire Prevention Association signage is commonly used to warn fire departments of what hazards they could encounter within buildings. We do an exercise with retailers where we ask them to put on a terrorist hat, stand in the middle of their facility and tell us just by looking around what is being stored at the facility. It’s an eye-opening exercise — it is amazing to them how much information they can get just by looking at the signage, and how the laws require us to effectively telegraph to an intruder what products we stock at the facility. The rules conflict with good security practices.

Q. What could happen as far as regulation?
AS: I think fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate will be added to the risk management plan list of regulated substances. It was never really on the list initially because companies that handle explosives grade material argued that it was already a highly regulated product as an explosive. There are a lot of agencies currently evaluating what went wrong in the communication and the public is expecting actions to prevent this from happening again. Lack of harmonization — the “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” — keeps popping up as a problem, so we’ll see how things sort out. For the first time that I can ever remember, industry is inspired to come together to prevent this from happening again.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “West Fertilizer Disaster: Employing The Lessons Learned

  1. Every county in the nation should have a County Emergency Manager. Sometimes it will be the fire chief, sometimes not. But they are plugged into every aspect of emergency response. They are supposed to have disaster mitigation plans as part of their work with FEMA. It would be a good idea for ag suppliers/wholesalers/retailers to contact these emergency managers and make sure they are aware of any ammonium nitrate storage and factor it into their emergency response planning. Maybe if there is another facility owner out there who has "some catching up to do" it won't result in the deaths of first responders and leveling of a school, businesses and homes.

Management Stories

ManagementBiotech Crops Developments and Millennials
April 28, 2016
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf talk about the latest activities in biotech crops and a major shift in the Read More
StewardshipNRCS To Help Farmers Measure Conservation Impacts On Water Quality
April 27, 2016
The USDA has announced the availability of $2 million to help farmers install edge-of-field stations that monitor water quality as Read More
Valley Irrigation Valley 8000 series on corn
EquipmentValley Irrigation Receives Environmental Stewardship Honor
April 26, 2016
Valley Irrigation has been recognized as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site by the Groundwater Foundation. The Groundwater Guardian Green Site Read More
ManagementIllinois Leads The Nation In 4R Certified Nutrient Management Specialists
April 22, 2016
As Illinois agriculture works to educate farmers about minimizing environmental impact and optimizing the use of ag nutrients, Illinois now leads Read More
Trending Articles
Eric SfiligojMissing The Family Ties In Agriculture
April 25, 2016
By its nature, the agriculture market is cyclical. Up and down cycles come and go with a regular pattern. For Read More
HerbicidesHerbicide Resistance In Waterhemp Continues To Grow
April 22, 2016
Twenty-five years ago, waterhemp was virtually unknown to Illinois farmers. Today, the broadleaf weed blankets corn and soybean fields across Read More
Eric SfiligojBiotech Corn Drop More Economics Vs. Consumer Rejection
April 18, 2016
Since their introduction into the agricultural marketplace, biotech crops has steadily grown in acreage in the countries of the world Read More
Crop InputsBayer: 5 Reasons We Disagree With Maryland Neonic Ban
April 12, 2016
We’re disappointed that the Maryland legislature chose not to stand up for sound science and the rights of Maryland’s homeowners Read More
Corn
OpinionChallenging Global Economic Conditions Putting More Heat On U.S. Ag Retailers
April 7, 2016
There it is. That vague, slightly sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. Things are getting weird out there. Read More
ScoutPro iPad
Precision AgWhat’s Trending In Soil Testing And Scouting
April 6, 2016
Keeping up on soil testing and scouting, especially following unusual weather conditions, can play a role in maximizing yields. Soil Read More
Latest News
Giant Ragweed
HerbicidesSurvey Provides Insights On Giant Ragweed In The Corn B…
May 2, 2016
A new survey published in the journal Weed Science offers insights into the distribution and management of giant ragweed, a Read More
Truck dumping dry fertilizer
FertilizerFertilizer Logistics Q&A: Southern States’ Joe Wlod…
May 2, 2016
Joe Wlodkoski, Director of Agronomy Procurement, Fertilizer, Southern States Cooperative, is a 40-plus year fertilizer industry veteran. He is quite Read More
Eric SfiligojReasons For Hope In Commodity Prices
May 2, 2016
For many months now, the doomsayers have ruled the day in agriculture. Too much supply with too little demand would Read More
West Central Dome structure
FertilizerFertilizer Logistics 2016: All Clear, So Far
May 1, 2016
After a relatively hairy early start to the spring fertilizer movement season with flooding in Louisiana and St. Louis, things Read More
BAICOR
CropLife 100BRANDT Acquires Utah Specialty Fertilizer Company
April 28, 2016
BRANDT, a leading agriculture retailer and manufacturer of specialty ag products, has acquired a majority interest in BAICOR, L.C. BAICOR, Read More
Soybean field
Industry NewsVerdesian Life Sciences Adds Vice President Of Business…
April 28, 2016
Verdesian Life Sciences has announced the addition of Marc Treurniet to the plant health and nutrition company’s management team. Treurniet Read More
ManagementBiotech Crops Developments and Millennials
April 28, 2016
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf talk about the latest activities in biotech crops and a major shift in the Read More
Industry NewsNachurs-Alpine, Pathway Biologic Extend Marketing Agree…
April 28, 2016
Nachurs-Alpine Solutions (Marion, OH) and Pathway Biologic (Plant City, FL) announce an extension to their exclusive marketing agreement specific to Read More
MicronutrientsCharah Add Three Warehouses For SUL4R-PLUS Fertilizer
April 28, 2016
Charah, Inc., a total solutions company providing unparalleled service and innovation for the coal-fired power generation industry, announced today that Read More
Spenser Forgey, Yahama Fortix
FungicidesIndiana Farmer Wins Arysta LifeScience FORTIX Fungicide…
April 28, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently presented Spenser Forgey, a grower from Young America, IN, with a new 2016 Yamaha Grizzly Read More
Corn Field
HerbicidesNew Wilbur‐Ellis Herbicide Targets Volunteer Corn
April 28, 2016
Wilbur‐Ellis Co., a recognized leader in marketing and distribution of crop protection products, as well as precision agriculture technology, has Read More
StewardshipNRCS To Help Farmers Measure Conservation Impacts On Wa…
April 27, 2016
The USDA has announced the availability of $2 million to help farmers install edge-of-field stations that monitor water quality as Read More
Planter in Iowa
EquipmentTop 10 Twitter Pics For #Plant16
April 27, 2016
Despite some wet weather in parts of the Midwest, growers and ag retailers are working feverishly to plant this year’s Read More
HerbicidesHELM AGRO Launches New HELM Sulfentrazone 4F Herbicide
April 26, 2016
HELM AGRO US, Inc. has announced the federal Section 3 registration of its new HELM Sulfentrazone 4F herbicide. Classified as a Read More
Valley Irrigation Valley 8000 series on corn
EquipmentValley Irrigation Receives Environmental Stewardship Ho…
April 26, 2016
Valley Irrigation has been recognized as a Groundwater Guardian Green Site by the Groundwater Foundation. The Groundwater Guardian Green Site Read More
Eric SfiligojMissing The Family Ties In Agriculture
April 25, 2016
By its nature, the agriculture market is cyclical. Up and down cycles come and go with a regular pattern. For Read More
HerbicidesHerbicide Resistance In Waterhemp Continues To Grow
April 22, 2016
Twenty-five years ago, waterhemp was virtually unknown to Illinois farmers. Today, the broadleaf weed blankets corn and soybean fields across Read More
ManagementIllinois Leads The Nation In 4R Certified Nutrient Mana…
April 22, 2016
As Illinois agriculture works to educate farmers about minimizing environmental impact and optimizing the use of ag nutrients, Illinois now leads Read More