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Ammonium Nitrate Explosions

Ammonium Nitrate Explosions: The Science Behind Ammonia Explosions Can Provide Guidance on How to Prevent These Disasters

Following the explosion and disaster in West, Texas, many people have questions regarding the cause of the explosion.  It appears, without much debate, that ammonium nitrate and/or anhydrous ammonia were the major fuel behind the large explosion that killed many, injured hundreds, and destroyed homes, business, and property.  And, in communities throughout Texas and other states where agriculture is a large part of the economy, concerns regarding purchase, storage, and safety regarding these explosive chemicals have been magnified.

The exact mechanism by which a chemical that has become a standard part of most agricultural operations becomes the equivalent of a bomb, is something that should be explained to those who work around, handle, store, or purchase ammonium nitrate, anhydrous ammonia or other potentially combustible fertilizer products.  By explaining how a benign substance can become a bomb, perhaps we can prevent disasters like the one in West, Texas.  Since the West, Texas explosion is only one of many major explosions involving ammonium nitrate and/or anhydrous ammonia, educating the public on the characteristics of this chemical should be a priority of government regulators.

It is still unclear what exactly caused the West Fertilizer explosion that killed at least 14 people and caused widespread damage to the town of West, Texas, but the devastation should remind everyone that the good that fertilizers do when it comes to increasing crop yields has to be balanced with the potential damage they can do when precautions aren’t taken.

The West plant stored large amounts of two chemicals, anhydrous ammonia and ammonium nitrate, both of which have caused explosions in the past.  Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless, corrosive gas that must be stored as a liquid under pressure. In order to use it, farmers inject it into the soil. While many think of anhydrous ammonia  as a toxic chemical that can cause serious breathing problems, the fact of the matter is, while it is less dangerous than natural gas under normal conditions, if the chemical is released into the air in a relatively high concentration, it can also become flammable and potentially explosive.

In its usual granular form, if ammonium nitrate is mixed with fuel oil, it can become a powerful explosive that has often been used in wartime, in the demolition industry and sometimes by terrorists. And even without the fuel oil, under the right conditions, such as when it is in a confined space and heated by a fire, it can explode.

If you or a loved one works in an industry that handles or stores ammonium nitrate or anhydrous ammonia, take time to learn about the dangers associated with this chemical.  Further, anyone that could potentially come in contact with a fire close to ammonium nitrate should be warned about the explosive potential so that deaths like those in West, Texas do not happen.  Regulation regarding the storage, production, and purchase of ammonium nitrate should be a top government priority.  However, educating first responders, workers, people that live close to ammonium nitrate facilities, farmers, and anyone that could come in contact with ammonium nitrate should also be a government priority.  If you have questions regarding this post, contact Hill Law Firm today.


Personal Injury, Plant Explosions, Workplace Safety