Sarasota News Leader

05/03/2013

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Sarasota News Leader May 3, 2013 OPINION Page 70 TEXAS EXPLOSION OFFERS A NUMBER OF LESSONS By Waldo Proffitt Contributing Writer COMMENTARY The news in this ulated fertilizer that is seen less and less in farms country in the across the USA. third week of April was dominated by events in "They had 270 tons of ammonium nitrate stored on Massachusetts and Texas. that site," says Bryan Haywood, who runs Safety The first, a pair of explosions near the finish line of Engineering Network, a consulting group in Milford, the Boston Marathon, took place in front of a bevy OH. "That's why there's a 93-foot-wide crater there of reporters and photographers gathered to cover now. There is nothing else in their reporting that the finish of the Patriots Day race. Newspapers and has the potential for such a detonation," he says of television treated it like a candidate for top story factory data. of the year, which it may well prove to be. With the thousands of men and women running in the mar- Ammonium nitrate is explosive under the right conathon and with perpetrators and victims offering ditions. Mixed with something flammable and exup an interesting cast of characters and President posed to flame, it can explode. Timothy McVeigh Obama becoming a commentator, newspapers and used two tons of ammonium nitrate mixed with fuel television had no problem figuring out their top oil to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building news day after day. in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, in 1995. But it is not a danger that exists in many places. That is The second story was an explosion in a fertilizer because the chemical, once a popular fertilizer, is factory in a Texas town named West. It was a large rarely used these days. explosion in a small town and it took a heavy toll — 14 dead and more than 200 injured. The Insurance There are more than 6,000 fertilizer facilities in the Council of Texas estimates the damage to surround- United States, but few of them stock ammonium niing homes and businesses will exceed $100 million. trate and the number has been falling steadily, says There were 270 tons of ammonium nitrate stored Kathy Mathers of the Fertilizer Institute, a trade group in Washington, D.C. In 2010, the last year for on the site. which figures were available, only 2 percent of the There is little regulation of the chemical, because, nitrogen fertilizer sold in the United States was amif stored properly, it is not considered high-risk. monium nitrate. That is down from 5 percent 15 Federal investigators have not determined the cause years ago, Mathers says. It is applied mostly to vegof the horrific fire and explosion at the plant as of etable fields, citrus orchards and some pasture and this writing, but the main suspect is a loosely reg- hayfields.

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