Ammonia, ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosions have deadly history

18 April 2013 17:19  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Fertilizer explosions such as the one that occurred Wednesday night at a plant in West, Texas, have a deadly history of human loss and devastation in the communities in which they have occurred.

Several explosions involving ammonia and ammonium nitrate have occurred around the world in the past 100 years, many with deadly consequences. One of the worst was just a few hundred miles down the road from Wednesday’s explosion.

On 16 April 1947 in Texas City, Texas, a docked French-owned ship carrying ammonium nitrate caught fire and then exploded as fire-fighters were trying to extinguish the blaze, according to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA).

A second docked ship caught fire from the explosion and was towed about 100 feet from the docks before it exploded 16 hours later on 17 April 1947.

The first explosion killed 26 Texas City fire-fighters and destroyed the town’s fire fighting equipment, which left the city helpless to fight the fire that resulted from the second explosion, according to the TSHA. Thousands of volunteers came to town to help extinguish the blazes and help with disaster relief.

A monument to the first ship says that 576 people in all were killed in the 1947 Texas City explosions, 398 of whom were identified, according to the TSHA.

The entire dock area was destroyed along with a Monsanto facility, grain warehouses and numerous oil and chemical storage tanks.

The explosion flung fragments of iron, ship’s cargo parts and dock equipment into businesses, houses and public buildings, and it caused a 15 ft (4.5m) tidal wave that crashed into the dock as well.

More recently, the explosion of a 300-tonne stockpile of ammonium nitrate at a fertilizer plant in Toulouse, France, on 21 September 2001 resulted in 31 deaths and injured thousands of people.

The explosion at the plant, which was owned by a Total subsidiary, caused a crater nearly 5m deep and 50m in diameter.

By: Jeremy Pafford
+1 713 525 2653

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