Texas Fertilizer Blast Draws Attention To Chemicals Used In Idaho

May 1, 2013

Credit DMeyer / Flickr Creative Commons

It’s been two weeks since a deadly explosion at a Texas fertilizer facility claimed 14 lives and injured scores more. Investigators are still determining what caused the blast at the West Fertilizer Company.

What is clear is that the Texas facility was capable of storing large quantities of anhydrous ammonia, a highly explosive compound used in many fertilizers.  

Anhydrous ammonia can be used to make ammonium nitrate, which was found at the facility.  Ammonium nitrate is the same substance used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

In Idaho, the fertilizer industry means big business. Last year, fertilizers were among the state’s top exports. The J.R. Simplot Company is one of the companies producing fertilizer in Idaho. The company’s Pocatello plant primarily uses phosphorus to make fertilizer. Ammonium phosphate is actually a flame retardant, and it’s not explosive.

But according to a report from the Occupations Safety and Health Administration, anhydrous ammonia was at the Pocatello plant in 2011. During an inspection that resulted in violations, inspectors said anhydrous was being handled and labeled incorrectly. Among the violations, the report shows problems with the emergency shower area for workers exposed to anhydrous. One violation resulted in a $20,000 fine. An OSHA spokesperson says the company has fixed all the problems cited in this report.

The J. R. Simplot Company would not say whether anhydrous ammonia is still used at the plant. A company spokesman did say they do not make ammonium nitrate in Idaho.  

The Idaho Department of Agriculture keeps a register of all fertilizers manufactured in the state. According to those records, 3,569 tons of ammonium nitrate were distributed in Idaho in 2012.   

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