April 2013 you may have woken up to the news of an explosion wrecking a small community in America The explosion had a magnitude of over 2. Literally shaking the local community. There are a number of fatalities, 12 at the date this article was written, and over 160 people have been injured.
The extent of the fire damage was not the only problem as the area was filled with plumes of toxic smoke as a result of the immediate release of energy. Nitrogen and ammonia ingredients of fertiliser are good the encouraging the growth of flora but they have within them huge stores of energy.
The accident occurred in the evening and eye witnesses believe the fire ball stretched over 30 metres into the evening sky. The normally quiet town had a very late wake up call.
The intensity of the explosion and the energy wave that went with it caused extensive damage to the site and nearby community including school and home for the elderly. Some buildings being completely flattened and others looking like the result of an bombing attack.
Though the incident was not without warning as West Intermediate School, near to the plant, had to evacuate their site in February of this year after a fire was identified on the plants site.
In fact there was no explosion or release but the site were burning waste pallets and pellets but actually this activity should not have been undertaken without warning the close neighbours.
Back as far as 2006 the plant was also investigated after strong smells emanated from the site. The American Environmental Protection agency fined the owner for $2,300 over failing to implement a risk management plan meeting federal standards, it would appear they may not have headed this as a warning of poor standards. The company’s owner estimate of the risks involved with operating their fertile plant was that the worst possible scenario would be a 10-minute release of ammonia gas that would kill or injure no one.
This explosion in West is not a unique incident in America. There has been a long list of fatal incidents involving ammonium nitrate. The chemical compound is used both as a fertilizer and for explosive devices. Since 1921, at least 17 unintended explosions of ammonium nitrate including casualties have been recorded.
The most disastrous incident happened yesterday 66 years ago, when cargo ship exploded in Texas leaving 581 dead and 3500 injured. It is the deadliest industrial accident in the history of America.
Three other ammonium nitrate accidents have caused more than 100 deaths: The explosion of a BASF plant in Oppau, Germany in 1921 (561 dead); the explosion at a plant in Tessenderlo, Belgium in 1940 (189 dead); and the 2004 cargo train explosion of Ryongchŏn, North Korea that caused at least 160 deaths.
For those of you studying the Nebosh diploma—this is an example of a dust explosion and shows its consequences very graphically.