Medina farmer awaits decision on ammonia tank

SHARON CENTER, Ohio — A court hearing to decide the fate of anhydrous ammonia tanks approved for use on Ohio farms has been continued to May 26 and 27, officials in the case have confirmed.

Trustees in Medina County’s Sharon Township, along with the county prosecutor’s office, are asking the state to change the way it approves such tanks, and include additional safety regulations. The trustees filed a complaint against the Ohio Department of Agriculture in mid-January in Licking County Common Pleas Court.

Their concern stems from a 12,000-gallon anhydrous tank installed last year at a Beach Road grain farm. Owner Bruce Simmons plans to use all of the anhydrous on his grain operation.

Public concern

Residents’ concerns culminated in a series of well-attended meetings, where trustees heard concerns over potential explosions, fires, and theft by drug users.

A complaint was filed on their behalf Jan. 13, against the Ohio Department of Agriculture, demanding ODA be “enjoined, preliminarily and permanently from approving the use of, or continued use of, any permanent anhydrous ammonia storage tank on a farm” until regulations are put into place that “reasonably protect the health, safety and welfare of people and property.”

The ODA approved the tank’s installation last spring, but has agreed to delay issuing a permit to operate until the court matter is resolved, said ODA Communications Director Andy Ware.

ODA entered a motion to dismiss the case in early February, saying the trustees are overstepping their statutory authority and that ODA is not required to regulate such tanks.

The facts

The Material Safety Data Sheet — a widely used system for cataloging information on chemicals — says anhydrous ammonia is “is an irritant and corrosive to the skin, eyes, respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Exposure to liquid or rapidly expanding gases may cause severe chemical burns and frostbite to the eyes, lungs and skin.”

In an interview with Farm and Dairy at his farm mid-February, Simmons said he doesn’t understand all the fuss over the tank. A retired law professor, he said he’s spent many hours researching and implementing the necessary requirements of law, and safety.

“They’re (permitters) more inclined to say no, than yes,” he said.

His tank has been pressure tested to more than 300 psi, well above the 250 psi most similar tanks are tested, and its construction is of 1.5-inch stainless steel. It was built by the Monsanto company.

In the unlikely event of a spill, he said all that’s required is to spray water onto it, and it will fall to the ground. He has large ponds in all directions of the tank, which he said act as barriers and a source of “spray water.”

Damage control

Industry documents confirm that spray water as the ways to control a spill, and a fire.
But fire and explosion are generally not concerns with anhydrous ammonia, according to published documents.

“Anhydrous ammonia is generally not considered to be a flammable hazardous product because its temperature of ignition is greater than 1,560 degrees Fahrenheit and the ammonia/air mixture must be 16 percent to 25 percent ammonia vapor for ignition,” according to a North Dakota State University fact sheet.

“Outdoors, ammonia is not generally a fire hazard,” according to the MSDS document.

Simmons said he thinks many of the people concerned about his tank are reacting to misinformation, and in some cases, comparing tanks and incidences that are not the same.

Note: The below article appeared as a sidebar in the print edition:

Changing neighborhood impacts perception of tank

SHARON CENTER, Ohio — A changing rural-urban landscape could be part of the challenge facing a Medina County township, where a farmer’s anhydrous ammonia tank has become a controversial topic among some neighbors.

Farmers in Sharon Township recall an abundance of dairy farms and open fields that dominated the land just a couple decades ago. Now, it’s subdivisions and houses, with a few open fields interspersed.

“If this was like it was 25 years ago, it wouldn’t be an issue,” said trustee Brian Guccion.

Guccion, who is also a farmer, abstained when the trustees voted to file a complaint against the state, calling for tougher regulations on such tanks.

“I still have my beliefs and convictions,” he said.

Two-sides

Norm Hydel, a township employee, shared concerns on both sides of the issue.

A YouTube video of an explosion, as well as the closeness of some neighbors confined to wheelchair, and young children, have been top concerns among those worried about the tank.

The township is changing — a fact he and trustees all identify. And with the changes come new concerns.

Hydel said there have been complaints the past few years about combines and tractors running after dark, and about farm odors.
“They (residents) moved out here because it was farmland, and now they want to change it,” he said.

Retired dairy farmer James Kahl, 71, lives just a few houses down from the tank, and his family has owned land there as long as he can remember.

He remembers when just a half-dozen houses dotted the area.

“Now, you drive up and down the road and there’s nothing but houses left,” he said. “I think some of them are forgetting where their food comes from.”

The neighbors

The nearest house is said to be 1,100 feet from the 12,000-gallon tank. Nancy Hlavin, whose house is directly across Beach Road from the tank, said she’s not worried.

The 20-year resident is a geologist with a master’s degree and said anhydrous ammonia isn’t something to be feared. She knows the tank has been pressure tested to more than 300 psi, and that a leak can be controlled with water, which farm owner Bruce Simmons has plenty of — given his ponds that surround the tank.

“I really don’t have a problem with it,” she said. “It’s a certified tank tested for (high) pressures.”

The chemicals involved “are pretty common” she said, adding “a little knowledge and information go a long way.”

Trustees insist they’re not against farmers, nor against anhydrous ammonia. But if the tank is approved for use, it’s believed to be the first on a farm in their county.

Trustees have invited Bruce Simmons, the farmer who installed the tank, to come to their meetings. But he has declined, saying the environment would not be hospitable.

“I have a fundamental right to keep to myself,” he said. “They (also) could come here.”

Will talk

Simmons said Farm and Dairy was the first newspaper that visited him in person. He said reports of him not responding to the media or not being available are untrue, and he’s willing to share his efforts to those who ask.

He knows about the video that’s circulating of a tank explosion, but said people need to understand that video portrayed a tank stored indoors — a serious safety hazard. His own tank is outdoors, an important safety and legal requirement.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “They’ve got all the people scared.”

Although the closest neighbor is 1,100 feet away, it turns out his home is much closer.

“Mine is closest,” said Simmons, who said he wouldn’t do anything that put him or his two Labrador dogs in harm’s way.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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