Our hearts and prayers go out to all the families affected by the fertilizer explosion in West Texas yesterday. People everywhere are already demanding answers to the most obvious questions. Why was so much anhydrous ammonia and possibly ammonium nitrate stored so close to schools, nursing homes, and playgrounds? According to the Wall Street Journal, "[a]ccording to a report filed to state and local officials as required by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency, the West Fertilizer plant stored as much as 540,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia."
The MSDS reports - the Material Safety Data Sheets available here - show that these chemicals are very dangerous and sometimes explosive especially in the presence of water and under certain conditions. As the investigations get underway, it is becoming more clear that this incident could have and should have been prevented by following the rules established by OSHA for such manufacturing and storage operations. Fertilizer plants have exploded before and they are not "freak accidents" but preventable if safety rules are followed. As time goes on there will be more and more questions to be answered. Hopefully, sooner rather than later.
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