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
ManagementMACA 2014: The State Of The Agricultural Industry, And Then Some
October 9, 2014
The trade association’s annual gathering featured speakers from across agriculture and beyond. Read More
StewardshipA Multi-Layered Approach To Water Quality
October 6, 2014
Illinois event highlights research and technology designed to better monitor and improve water quality — and the benefits of cooperative, coordinated effort. Read More
StewardshipMichigan Agriculture Leaders On Toledo Water Ban: We Want To Be Part Of The Conversation
August 8, 2014
Leaders of Michigan agricultural organizations said Thursday that the government should not have a “knee-jerk reaction” based on last weekend’s water ban in Toledo due to fertilizer run-off in Lake Erie. Read More
ManagementRussia Bans U.S. And EU Ag Product Imports In Ukraine Sanctions Battle
August 7, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin has banned the import of agricultural goods from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia. Read More
Top 100 Articles
CropLife 100Pinnacle Agriculture Acquires Minnesota Retailer
April 14, 2015
Pinnacle Agriculture Holdings, LLC, ranked No. 6 on the CropLife 100,  has successfully acquired Liebl Ag, LLC in Ada, MN.  Read More
CropLife 100CHS, Aurora Cooperative Complete Fertilizer Storage, Grain Shuttle Loading Facility
April 13, 2015
CHS Inc., the nation’s leading cooperative and ranked No. 5 on the CropLife 100, and Aurora Cooperative (ranked No. 21) Read More
CropLife 100GROWMARK Acquires Missouri Refined Fuels Terminal
April 2, 2015
Bloomington, IL-based GROWMARK and Magellan Pipeline Co. have entered into an agreement in which GROWMARK will acquire the refined fuels Read More
CropLife 100Wilbur-Ellis Acquires South Dakota Retailer
April 2, 2015
Wilbur-Ellis Co.’s Agribusiness Division, a recognized leader in precision agriculture technology and the distribution and marketing of plant protection, seed Read More
CropLife 100The McGregor Co. Closes Smith-Kem Acquisition
April 2, 2015
The McGregor Co. — ranked No. 16 on the CropLife 100 list of largest U.S. ag retailers — has completed Read More
CropLife 100BRANDT Commemorates National Ag Day
March 20, 2015
The Illinois agriculture community gathered at BRANDT global headquarters on March 18 to celebrate National Ag Day behind this year's theme Sustaining Future Generations. Read More
Latest News
Eric SfiligojThe Need To Defend Production Agriculture
April 27, 2015
Last week, I spent the better part of my time on the road visiting with ag retailers and market suppliers Read More
FertilizerStarter Fertilizers Show Value In Stressful Spring Cond…
April 27, 2015
From wet, cold conditions in the eastern Corn Belt to excessively dry, cool soils in the Plains states, spring field Read More
StewardshipTFI Announces Renewed Financial Commitment To Fertilize…
April 24, 2015
Today, The Fertilizer Institute’s (TFI) President Chris Jahn announced that TFI and over 100 partners will more than double existing Read More
Industry NewsMACA Names New Ambassador Coordinator
April 23, 2015
The Mid America CropLife Association (MACA) has named Michelle Kilper as its new Ambassador Coordinator. Michelle is a graduate of Read More
ManagementAg Retailer’s Role In Local Policy Making; Raising The …
April 23, 2015
CropLife’s Paul Schrimpf and Eric Sfiligoj review their recent travels, precision ag efforts in Washington, DC, and the role of Read More
TMX-2050 In-Cab Display Launch Run Screen
Precision AgIn-Cab Computing 2015: Connectivity, Compatibility Take…
April 23, 2015
In terms of in-cab computing solutions for the agriculture market, companies like Case IH, Topcon, Trimble, John Deere and Raven Read More
USDA
StewardshipUSDA Outlines Building Blocks For Climate Smart Agricul…
April 23, 2015
Today, the USDA has announced a comprehensive and detailed approach to support farmers, ranchers, and forest land owners in their Read More
Industry NewsArysta LifeScience Welcomes New Territory Sales Manager
April 23, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the addition of Kaitlyn Acaster to the Canadian sales team. Acaster will fill the Read More
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Opens New Research Greenhouse
April 23, 2015
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. (MBI), a leading provider of bio-based pest management and plant health products for the agriculture, turf Read More
Crop InputsDuPont Acquires Taxon Biosciences
April 23, 2015
DuPont has agreed to acquire Taxon Biosciences, Inc., a leading microbiome discovery company. This acquisition will build on DuPont’s in-house capabilities Read More
Farmer on tablet
ManagementStudy: Consumers Don’t Care If U.S. Farmers Feed …
April 23, 2015
“We’re feeding the world” is a mantra often used by those involved in farming and food to build support for Read More
Industry NewsCorporate Responsibility Magazine Names Monsanto One Of…
April 22, 2015
Corporate Responsibility Magazine (CR Magazine) named Monsanto Co. to its 100 Best Corporate Citizens List for 2015. This is the Read More
FertilizerSpring Nitrogen Management: Form And Timing
April 22, 2015
Most corn producers have planned their spring nitrogen program for 2015, and many have already started to implement their program. Read More
FMC 3Rive 3D
Industry NewsFMC Corp. Completes Acquisition Of Cheminova
April 22, 2015
FMC Corp. has completed the closing of its acquisition of Cheminova A/S, a multinational crop protection company based in Denmark Read More
SoftwareSyngenta Expands AgriEdge Excelsior Nationwide For 2015
April 22, 2015
Growers across the country can now take the guesswork out of improving their farm’s production, land value, farm stewardship and Read More
Cornfield near Sioux City Iowa
HerbicidesU.S. Regulators May Start Testing Food For Glyphosate R…
April 21, 2015
U.S. regulators may start testing food products for residues of the world’s most widely used herbicide, EPA told Reuters’ Carey Read More
FungicidesBRANDT Adds Zonix Biofungicide To Portfolio
April 21, 2015
BRANDT has added Zonix biofungicide to its rapidly expanding line of organic and sustainable products. Zonix is a contact fungicide that Read More
ManagementMissouri Experts: Spring Planting Slow Start Won’…
April 20, 2015
In the first of the agronomy teleconferences with Extension specialists, University of Missouri Extension climatologist Pat Guinan said the slow Read More