SALEM, Ohio — As the town of West, Texas, begins to unravel what went wrong and resulted in an explosion at a fertilizer plant there, some are left to wonder what the last impacts could be on the spring planting season and future fertilizer supplies.
The explosion occurred around 7:50 p.m. central time April 17 in West, Texas. According to the Texas Emergency Management Agency, numerous injuries and deaths were reported immediately. As of April 19, rescue workers continued to search for missing residents.
Due to health and safety concerns, evacuation of a significant portion of the community was conducted at the time of the incident. Significant damage has been reported to structures within several blocks of the plant, including a middle school, nursing home, numerous residences, and businesses.
Reports show that the explosion measured a 2.1 on Richter earthquake scale. The Texas EMA has declared the city of west a state of disaster.
According to the Fertilizer Institute, fertilizer is regulated both the federal and state levels. Federal agencies of jurisdiction include the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation. At the state level, fertilizers are regulated by state department of agriculture office of fertilizer control.
The Fertilizer Institute also said in a written statement that facilities storing anhydrous ammonia in quantities of 10,000 pounds or more are required to have an Environmental Protection Agency approved Clean Air Act Risk Management Program plan to address accidental releases of ammonia. Each facility covered under the act is required to conduct an off-site consequence analysis for a worst-case accident, a hazard assessment and an accident prevention program.
Facilities storing ammonium nitrate in quantities of 400 pounds or more are regulated under the Department of Homeland Security, according to the Fertilizer Institute. Additionally, the National Fire Protection Association code 490 sets standards for the storage of ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is also regulated by the Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, spring planting is beginning across the United States and this explosion has some wondering if it could affect the price of fertilizer.
Tom Puch, a certified crop adviser for Agland Co-Op headquartered in Canfield, Ohio, said he does not expect to see an increase in fertilizer prices since this plant was a retail plant and not a manufacturing plant.
He said he suspects this retailer was producing fertilizer destined for the farm belt and that there is plenty of fertilizer left in the pipeline for spring planting.
Puch also said most producers bought the fertilizer they are going to need in December and January. “Most farmers have already locked in their fertilizer needs,” said Puch.