Ammonia tanks ruled out as source of Texas fertilizer blast

25 April 2013 19:49 Source:ICIS News

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Investigators with the Texas Fire Marshal's Office are still left with questions as to the source of the deadly explosion at West Fertilizer but confirmed on Thursday that it ruled out the site's tanks of anhydrous ammonia.

The four tanks never ruptured in the huge blast on 17 April that killed 14 and injured approximately 200, said assistant state fire marshall, Kelly Kistner. The tanks have been examined and are considered safe and secured.

While officials have not confirmed the volumes of ammonia present at the time of the explosion, in a filing in December 2012, the fertilizer distributor had reported holding 55 tons of ammonia within the 12,000 gal (45,000 litre) tanks that were located south of the company’s dry fertilizer mixing site.

Firefighters at the scene had reported to officials that the ammonia tanks were releasing gas through the safety valves.

Although their initial thoughts and efforts were to apply water to the tanks to keep them from overheating and causing further blasts, they were unable to because there was no water remaining in the hydrants as the town’s water lines were an immediate causality of the explosion. Unable to fight the fire the crews then focused their efforts on evacuating residents.

Federal and state officials, including members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms National Response Team, continue their work in recovering evidence from the site, trying to piece together an explanation for the lethal accident, including carefully reviewing the epicenter of the explosion.

Also being reviewed were the remains of two silos on the property, which had been filled with corn and grain sorghum.

In terms of damage, new estimates are starting to come in as state officials now list the damage to include 350 homes in the small community, 140 of which were destroyed. The Insurance Council of Texas has said that insured losses have been estimated to reach as high as $100m (€77m).

So far, two lawsuits have been filed against Adair Grain, which did business as West Fertilizer. But legal analysts expect many more suits will be forthcoming.

Company owner Donald Adair has not spoken with the media since issuing a news release last Friday but through his spokesperson reiterated that the company and employees are cooperating with the investigation.

“We decline to comment on any pending litigation. Our focus remains on the fact finding. We continue to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community,” said Daniel Keeney, West Fertilizer spokesperson.

“To that end the owners and staff of West Fertilizer are working closely with investigating agencies. We have encouraged all employees to assist in the fact finding to whatever degree possible.”

By Mark Milam