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mike4
04-18-2013, 05:33 AM
I feel for the people who were fighting the fire at that plant , I hope that it gets as much investigation and concern as the other tragic event in Boston .
Michael

wierdscience
04-18-2013, 07:29 AM
It's a bad scene for sure,5-15 people dead over 100 injured and looks like a large section of town flattened:(

Tony Ennis
04-18-2013, 07:57 AM
It will be forgotten in a day or two.

Lew Hartswick
04-18-2013, 08:46 AM
It will be forgotten in a day or two.
Yep, there is no political hay to be made from that. :-(
I wonder if they will ever find the cause. If it was some safety thing that
was not done will it ever come out? A sorry situation for sure.
...lew...

vpt
04-18-2013, 08:50 AM
I wonder how they could find out what happened unless workers got out safe? Being that the place is leveled now I can't imagine them locating the initial cause of the fire.

ikdor
04-18-2013, 09:38 AM
I am curious as well how this could have happened. A similar thing happened in Texas City a long time ago where a fire on a ship full of fertilizer flattened a town. You would think that such a factory would now be designed in a way that fires would never lead to detonations.

Igor

Duffy
04-18-2013, 10:06 AM
I think that the FUNDEMENTAL cause is complacency. That famous expression "everybody knows," in this case that ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer and requires another component to explode. WELLLLL, that is not exactly true, as was demonstrated in Texas City and since forgotten. If a fire gets going, involving a large quantity of ammonium nitrate then, at some point the chemical conditions change within the body of the fire, and the whole system detonates.
Ammonium nitrate, mixed generously with building materials like wood, will burn like hell. If there is a large quantity of the ammonium nitrate WITHIN the fire area, it will heat up till, at some point, it will go boom.

jeremy13
04-18-2013, 10:29 AM
Yep ammonia nitrate goes high order just after boiling. You can take a spoon full (metal spoon). And light the ammonia nitrate on fire from the top and be fine. Take the same spoon full and put fire underneath the spoon. The powder will turn to liquid then start to boil and boom.

dp
04-18-2013, 11:06 AM
Yep ammonia nitrate goes high order just after boiling. You can take a spoon full (metal spoon). And light the ammonia nitrate on fire from the top and be fine. Take the same spoon full and put fire underneath the spoon. The powder will turn to liquid then start to boil and boom.

I watched a video shot by a father with his son in a car. Pretty close to the fire. Smoke was billowing to the left. Just at the left edge of the image the smoke column detonated and spread quickly to the base and the entire thing went up. Quite an amazing thing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROrpKx3aIjA

Entirely possible it was an artifact of the "shutter" speed of the camera the way airplane props appear to stop or spin slowly. Single step the frames with your cursor key and watch the left side at 30 seconds.

BigBoy1
04-18-2013, 11:33 AM
I am curious as well how this could have happened. A similar thing happened in Texas City a long time ago where a fire on a ship full of fertilizer flattened a town. You would think that such a factory would now be designed in a way that fires would never lead to detonations.

Igor

The Texas City explosion was caused by an entirely different problem. Ammonium Nitrate tends to "clump" when it is wet and to solve this problem, they coated the ammonium nitrate prills with wax. There was a ship full of ammonium nitrate prills coated with wax being unloaded. When you have an oxidizer (ammonium nitrate) and a fuel (wax) mixed together, you have the ideal explosive mixture. It is thought a spark ignited some of the dust and being an ideal explosive composition (fuel and oxidizer) it detonated and it took the whole ship with it. Currently, ammonium nitrate prills are no longer coated with wax to prevent clumping.

As to the cause of the explosion at the manufacturing plant, there could be many causes, i.e. bearing overheated, careless smoking, lightening, static electricity, etc.

jeremy13
04-18-2013, 12:15 PM
DP- I would have to guess that is a reflection in the camera lens. I found what you are talking about one time and can’t catch the image agene. If you look the fire burning to the right of the fire is a dark tree. Just above the tree and to the left is a dark object (roof top?) At 30 sec the plume of fire gets bigger just before the explosion.

A.K. Boomer
04-18-2013, 12:30 PM
That video literally blows me away - it gives great perspective as to the amount of power - and that's no wide angle lens - that place was pretty far back and it still rocked their world, my god that was powerful.

gcude
04-18-2013, 03:31 PM
I think that the FUNDEMENTAL cause is complacency. That famous expression "everybody knows," in this case that ammonium nitrate is an oxidizer and requires another component to explode. WELLLLL, that is not exactly true, as was demonstrated in Texas City and since forgotten. If a fire gets going, involving a large quantity of ammonium nitrate then, at some point the chemical conditions change within the body of the fire, and the whole system detonates.
Ammonium nitrate, mixed generously with building materials like wood, will burn like hell. If there is a large quantity of the ammonium nitrate WITHIN the fire area, it will heat up till, at some point, it will go boom.

I would expect complacency. I've seen complacency first-hand in the following explosion:

http://www.esdjournal.com/static/fireworks/kilgore.htm

I had done work for this company in the past and it always made me nervous to go there. They would have open 5-gallon buckets of powder all over the place while they were making the fireworks mortars and carpet on the floors in hallways and assembly rooms. No concrete bunkers separating things, just partitioned wood paneled walls. I asked the owner one time about static electricity from the carpet potentially setting off the whole place. His reply to me was, "When you work with this stuff as long as we have, you learn what you can get away with.". You only get away with some things so long ... the laws of nature will many times bit your ass and kill you and many people around you. The owner survived the explosion (he was not there at the time), but died several years later in a motorcycle accident.

Images
04-18-2013, 03:48 PM
My semi-educated guess is that this was started by vandalism.
I've worked around the agriculture industry for 10 years. Looking at the google earth view of West Fertilizer, it looks more like a dealership or co-op than a manufacturer. You can see 4 semi trailer tankers, that would have been used to store anhydrous ammonia, near where the blast crater is showing on the news. These tanks are frequent targets for vandals, in rural areas, as it is a needed ingredient when making meth. When exposed to the air, anhydrous breaks down into nitrogen and hydrogen... hence the boom. When you hear about a meth house blowing up, its is usually the result of mishandling the anhydrous. Accidents are frequent when the thieves are trying to figure out how to use the valves on the tanks, just doesn't usually go this horribly wrong.

BTW, great forum here. I've been lurking for two years, decided it was time to sign up last week.

Stern
04-18-2013, 04:02 PM
WOW, that was a little more than I expected, and with any luck the kids ears are not shot. Ammonium Nitrate is nasty stuff, and why its the choice of idiots making fuel bombs. Just needs heat and a bit of fuel and combustion is very rapid and complete. Chances are it was an "industrial accident" as it doesn't take much to get to the "runaway point". Probably a typical "lazy lack of respect" after doing the same thing for years with no issues, see it all the time in my work. sometimes it only takes a bit of "normal" stuff to cause issues. Ever see what happens at a paper plant where the rafters are covered in a few inches of paper dust and a fire starts .... like a grain silo blast on steroids. Its all about the "surface area" of the stuff that's burning

Evan
04-18-2013, 04:15 PM
ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil) is the standard mining explosive in open pit mines. If a hole or two don't go off it isn't a big deal as you can work in it and shovel it without setting it off. It takes a hard shock wave to set it off, usually using a stick of Forcite or similar as the detonator. When it is heated then everything changes.

Stern
04-18-2013, 04:35 PM
Yep, Ammonium Nitrate (like Potassium Nitrate) are really good at liberating large quantities of O2 when heated, then anything that can burn becomes a valid fuel source (even metals). I know back in the day that they would keep an eye on large purchases of Potassium Nitrate, but since Ammonium Nitrate is used as a fertilizer its a lot harder to track (unlike KNO3, saltpeter which is used as an anti-viagra which most people didn't buy in bulk lol). Not sure about now as ANFO (and to a lesser extent AMATOL) seems to be the product of choice with psycho bomb makers (a lot easier and cheaper than nitrating things to make TNT, TNG and other old school nasties)

Evan
04-18-2013, 04:42 PM
ANFO and AN is being tagged so they can at least track it to the source. The taggants are tiny plastic chips made up of many layers of coloured plastic the same as the resistor colour code. They mix it in with all sorts of explosives including dynamites. The tag is like a serial number with a different colour code for each batch and possibly dealer.

MrSleepy
04-18-2013, 04:53 PM
Scary.. Brings back memories for me.

I was playing golf about 1/2 mile away from the Humber Conoco Refinery that exploded in 2001.

A high pressure gas pipe ruptured and gas escaped for about 5 minutes before it found an ignition source.

Wiki (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_Humber_Refinery_explosion) kinda downplays the explosion,It took a 1 1/2 yrs to rebuild it...It was heard 50 Miles away.

We got lucky...blown over by the shockwave but no other ill effects.

It happened on an easter bank holiday so no office staff (office building destroyed) or contractors were on site and at the time of a staff changeover period so virtually no one was on plant.

The LOR (Lindsay Oil Refinery - Total/Fina )next door had an armoured Toilet block...but only armoured/bunkered on their side...an a few LOR staff were nearly killed on the toilet when the Toilet block was blown in from the Conoco side.

They had two 10 ton gas compressors in a large brick building in the centre of the plant.. They found one compressor..the other was reduced to pieces and the brick building was launched. RSJs were found in a field 4 miles away at Keelby.

Rob

A.K. Boomer
04-18-2013, 05:02 PM
As a kid I remember when a ping pong ball factory went up, if you ever lit a cracked ball and dropped it on the floor to watch it burn it will amaze you,,, that celluloid stuff goes up in a hurry, not sure if the place exploded or not but I know they at least had to let it burn and could not put it out...

dp
04-18-2013, 06:54 PM
Things that go boom - in the 1970s I worked in the marine electronics business, specializing in radar and radio communications. I delivered a wheel house clock to an oil tanker named Sansinena at pier 46 in LA harbor. The next day it exploded, split the hull athwart ship, and settled on the bottom. I was at home in Newport Beach 35 miles away when the shockwave hit my sliding glass door. Thought it was going to burst. The blast was devastating to the area for miles around, and parts of the ship were found far from the waterline. A small boatyard adjacent to the pier where the ship went down had boats knocked off ways and hulls embedded with shrapnel.

http://www.lafdmuseum.org/fires_sansinena

radkins
04-18-2013, 07:01 PM
The Texas City explosion was caused by an entirely different problem. Ammonium Nitrate tends to "clump" when it is wet and to solve this problem, they coated the ammonium nitrate prills with wax. There was a ship full of ammonium nitrate prills coated with wax being unloaded. When you have an oxidizer (ammonium nitrate) and a fuel (wax) mixed together, you have the ideal explosive mixture. It is thought a spark ignited some of the dust and being an ideal explosive composition (fuel and oxidizer) it detonated and it took the whole ship with it. Currently, ammonium nitrate prills are no longer coated with wax to prevent clumping.

As to the cause of the explosion at the manufacturing plant, there could be many causes, i.e. bearing overheated, careless smoking, lightening, static electricity, etc.



Quite a bit more to it than that, the ship was also carrying a load of what was described as "small arms ammunition" and it was stored alongside the AN. When a fire broke out on the ship the ammo was heard going off before the explosion so it's entirely possible that in this case the AN also had an explosive detonator/primer.

jeremy13
04-18-2013, 07:14 PM
radkins Unless AN was packed in the actual shell the ammo was probably not a factor.
http://saami.org/videos/sporting_ammunition_and_the_firefighter.cfm

J Tiers
04-18-2013, 08:38 PM
The current information says not one thing about ammonium nitrate....

Images seems to have it right.... not a "plant" but a dealership handling anhydrous ammonia for "incorporation" (spraying into the ground by a gizmo a tad like a plow). The tanks on wheels you see on farms.

It has to be stored under pressure, since it boils well below freezing.

Some sort of fire on the ground heated the tank, boiling out ammonia, which then went off. Ammonia burns, and if "carbureted" close to an ideal ratio it might be quite powerful.

It very likely was a bit like a military fuel-air explosive, which mixes fuel with the right amount of air, then sets off the cloud. Supposed to be the next thing below a nuclear device. That fits the descriptions.

ANFO is a different thing entirely, you can have lots of the AN, but without the FO, it doesn't do much. There would need to be a hopper of the stuff, or a bunch of pallets, and they would need to be soaked with a reasonable amount of (most likely) diesel.

vpt
04-18-2013, 08:39 PM
Things that go boom - in the 1970s I worked in the marine electronics business, specializing in radar and radio communications. I delivered a wheel house clock to an oil tanker named Sansinena at pier 46 in LA harbor. The next day it exploded, split the hull athwart ship, and settled on the bottom. I was at home in Newport Beach 35 miles away when the shockwave hit my sliding glass door. Thought it was going to burst. The blast was devastating to the area for miles around, and parts of the ship were found far from the waterline. A small boatyard adjacent to the pier where the ship went down had boats knocked off ways and hulls embedded with shrapnel.

http://www.lafdmuseum.org/fires_sansinena



Did they find your clock?

Guido
04-18-2013, 09:00 PM
Bet it was wound tight.

aostling
04-18-2013, 09:34 PM
Texas has had more than its share of unbearable grief. Perhaps nothing was worse than the New London school explosion of 1937, which killed 300 kids and teachers http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_London_School_explosion. I visited the town in 1997, and marveled that it still existed.

I think this explosion led to the requirement of adding mercapton to natural gas, so leaks could be smelled.

Evan
04-18-2013, 10:14 PM
One of the largest non-nuclear explosions was at Port Chicago next to Concord, California in 1944. That was not far from where I grew up although I was not yet born in '44. Over 300 were killed in that one and unexploded ordinance was found in fields for many miles around. It broke windows 50 miles distant. Then of course there was the Halifax explosion which also claims to be the largest non-nuclear explosion. That killed 2000 people and injured 9000.

But the real sleeper is the SS Richard Montgomery that is still lying in shallow water in the Thames Estuary next to the city of Sheerness-on-Sea. That is not far from London and millions of people in the area. The ship contains somewhere between 1500 to 3000 tonnes of unexploded ordinance that could go off any time if another ship runs across the hulk. It also contains 2000 cases of armed cluster bombs which would undoubtedly be widely distributed across the landscape if the wreck exploded.

It is now considered too dangerous to try to make safe by any means yet considered. The explosives become more sensitive with time as the dissolved ammonium nitrate reacts with the iron in casing to form highly sensitive compounds. The cluster bomb fuses react with moisture to form copper azide which is too sensitive to even touch. It is just sitting there waiting for something to set it off.

jeremy13
04-18-2013, 10:48 PM
Anhydrases ammonia has to be pre-heated before it will burn over 1000F. I think closer to 1200F was our target mark when we made Nitric acid with it. And burned a lovely emerald green. The storage tanks like propane tanks have safety relief valves that pop off fare before the internal temp gets to 1000F.

J Tiers
04-18-2013, 11:31 PM
Anhydrases ammonia has to be pre-heated before it will burn over 1000F. I think closer to 1200F was our target mark when we made Nitric acid with it. And burned a lovely emerald green. The storage tanks like propane tanks have safety relief valves that pop off fare before the internal temp gets to 1000F.

Of course..... but there was already a fire...... an excellent ignition source for released gas.

You can run cars on ammonia..... it has been done. If you look it up............

http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2008/August/Pages/AlternativeFuelsTakingASecondLookatAmmonia.aspx

and.... slightly less credible.....

http://www.greennh3.com/

Paul Alciatore
04-19-2013, 03:17 AM
I think part of the problem is if you want to build an explosives factory, you put it in the middle of nowhere and have buildings that are separated with earth embankments and actual distance. But if you want to set up a fertilizer factory, you just put it in town and pack the buildings together with no barriers. After all, it is just fertilizer.

No mind that it is the same thing. And perhaps even larger quantities are involved.

batt-man
04-19-2013, 03:24 AM
But the real sleeper is the SS Richard Montgomery that is still lying in shallow water in the Thames Estuary next to the city of Sheerness-on-Sea. That is not far from London and millions of people in the area. The ship contains somewhere between 1500 to 3000 tonnes of unexploded ordinance that could go off any time if another ship runs across the hulk. It also contains 2000 cases of armed cluster bombs which would undoubtedly be widely distributed across the landscape if the wreck exploded.

It is now considered too dangerous to try to make safe by any means yet considered. The explosives become more sensitive with time as the dissolved ammonium nitrate reacts with the iron in casing to form highly sensitive compounds. The cluster bomb fuses react with moisture to form copper azide which is too sensitive to even touch. It is just sitting there waiting for something to set it off.

Interestingly there is an article here (http://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway_messenger/news/2013/february/26/montgomery.aspx) stating that the Montgomery could be defused, it's just that it would cost maybe 30million...

Batt

J Tiers
04-19-2013, 08:30 AM
If you actually want to KNOW where the "plant" was located....... as opposed to speculating that it was "packed into" the middle of town...... here is an air photo of the place prior to the explosion.

You will see that the plant was almost as far from the "edge of town" in terms of buildings as the town is wide..... which is admittedly not that far. The "rest home" was across a large parking lot and a wide street , the school somewhat farther away. On the other side, a farm field. (what is on the far side in the photo is not clear)

It is rather different from the speculations here of it being "packed in with other buildings" or whatever.

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/west-fertilizer-had-few-violations-was-pillar-community-1C9509603


The article does mention that they (naturally) had dry fertilizer as well as the 24 tons of ammonia in two tanks, but as you know, or should know, fertilizer will not explode without fuel oil being soaked into it. At this time of year, the turnover of stock would likely be ramping up, and dry type fertilizer would not be sitting in pools of diesel.........

R. Dan
04-19-2013, 09:12 AM
In late 1994, I was a sheet metal mechanic working in the shop I was employed with. I was working on a rotational mold when this went off: http://www.ureaknowhow.com/urea_j/en/library/606-an-1995-us-epa-terra-port-neal-chemical-accident-investigation-report.html

The shop I worked in was about 25 miles away from the blast, yet I clearly heard the explosion even over the noise and rumble of a busy shop. Some of my co-workers claimed to have felt the shock wave from this. This explosion was a disaster that was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the Terra plant was and is located in an unpopulated rural area.

How this relates to the disaster in West: http://siouxcityjournal.com/news/state-and-regional/nebraska/port-neal-fertilizer-plant-operator-monitoring-texas-explosion/article_6878faba-344b-501b-836c-61b988b201eb.html

Rosco-P
04-19-2013, 09:59 AM
I think part of the problem is if you want to build an explosives factory, you put it in the middle of nowhere and have buildings that are separated with earth embankments and actual distance. But if you want to set up a fertilizer factory, you just put it in town and pack the buildings together with no barriers. After all, it is just fertilizer.

No mind that it is the same thing. And perhaps even larger quantities are involved.

As stated by a local Texas news station, the fertilizer company originally was in the middle of nowhere, but the area got build up around it.

Stupid, greedy developers, even dumber politicians.

jeremy13
04-19-2013, 03:43 PM
The fertilizer does not need to be soaked in fuel oil to explode. When used as ANFO yes and it takes a primary explosive to set it off. When you melt and boil AN it will explode with nothing else added.

danlb
04-19-2013, 04:25 PM
I've noticed that when businesses are far from the nearest housing, workers eventually build nearby. Then shops, schools, churches and such follow.

Spreckels, California was one such instance. It grew up around the Spreckels sugar factory, despite the tendency of sugar plants to occasionally have explosive events.

Reading the wiki for West, it appears that the town grew for other reasons. :)

Dan

Evan
04-19-2013, 07:50 PM
Just human nature. People build on sand bars, flood plains, steep and unstable slopes, on earthquake faults, below sea level, next to volcanoes and so on.

Many years ago I was offered a promotion to the new systems division but I would have to move to Vancouver. We went down to look at housing and I told the real estate agent I would not consider anything closer than 50 feet to lake or sea level. She looked at me like I was nuts and couldn't figure out the elevation of the listings because it wasn't included in the listing information. We didn't bother since prices were too high anyway which ended up being a good thing. I would have gone even crazier than I already am if we had moved there.

J Tiers
04-19-2013, 09:40 PM
The fertilizer does not need to be soaked in fuel oil to explode. When used as ANFO yes and it takes a primary explosive to set it off. When you melt and boil AN it will explode with nothing else added.

You don't have to melt it, it can "cook off", from getting too hot. However, it did not sound like the fire was going long enough to heat enough of it.... But most other information has been wrong so far, why should that be different?

Having seen some better pictures of the scene, there appears to be a fair sized crater with somewhat steep sides, which would NOT occur from an air/gas explosion alone. It looks to have been where there was a building. The one tank I saw remains of in the picture was crushed down and away from the crater, consistent with the idea of a local explosion.

So obviously at least some of it must have gone off. The amount of damage seems more than one might expect unless the whole lot went off, but that would mean a lot of it got hot enough more-or-less at once to cook off or be set off by whatever part got the hottest first..... Maybe it had help from leaking gas.

According to what I have read on the subject (I was interested enough to look it up) it is reasonably common for ammonium nitrate to NOT cook off in fires. So it's always possible that it had some help from other conditions.

Evan
04-20-2013, 12:51 AM
It is also reasonably common for fertilizer plants handling straight AN to explode, or it used to be. Many jurisdictions have banned AN.

Paul Alciatore
04-20-2013, 03:34 AM
J,

I was just trying to make a point about the mindset, not criticize this particular plant.

Explosives factory = dangerous. Fertilizer factory = ho hum.

If the people who set up the fertilizer factory had thought about it, they should have realized that they needed a large tract of land with the safety zone BUILT INTO the site. If they owned the surrounding land, no one else could build on it.

And yes, I fully realize that there must be examples of explosives factories that do not measure up.




If you actually want to KNOW where the "plant" was located....... as opposed to speculating that it was "packed into" the middle of town...... here is an air photo of the place prior to the explosion.

You will see that the plant was almost as far from the "edge of town" in terms of buildings as the town is wide..... which is admittedly not that far. The "rest home" was across a large parking lot and a wide street , the school somewhat farther away. On the other side, a farm field. (what is on the far side in the photo is not clear)

It is rather different from the speculations here of it being "packed in with other buildings" or whatever.

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/west-fertilizer-had-few-violations-was-pillar-community-1C9509603


The article does mention that they (naturally) had dry fertilizer as well as the 24 tons of ammonia in two tanks, but as you know, or should know, fertilizer will not explode without fuel oil being soaked into it. At this time of year, the turnover of stock would likely be ramping up, and dry type fertilizer would not be sitting in pools of diesel.........

vpt
04-20-2013, 08:43 AM
Just human nature. People build on sand bars, flood plains, steep and unstable slopes, on earthquake faults, below sea level, next to volcanoes and so on.




I could never understand why people do that. Like not long ago some people lost their homes in CA over a cliff. They built on soil (not rock) next to a 200-300' cliff...

BigBoy1
04-20-2013, 10:43 AM
The Oppau explosion occurred on September 21, 1921 when a tower silo storing 4,500 tons of a mixture of ammonium sulfate and ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded at a BASF plant in Oppau, now part of Ludwigshafen, Germany, killing 500600 people and injuring about 2,000 more. The workers were using dynamite to break-up the clumped masses of material.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oppau_explosion

Evan
04-20-2013, 12:58 PM
In Canada AN is tightly restricted. It is only approved for open pit mining and a couple of similar applications. There is no reason to use it for fertilizer any more. Urea has taken over that role and is more effective plus it doesn't go BOOM.

dp
04-20-2013, 01:07 PM
Here's an intentional super-explosion with unintended consequences.

http://www.mauinews.com/page/content.detail/id/541729.html
http://kauscience.k12.hi.us/~ted/Craters/Sailor_Hat.html

A.K. Boomer
04-20-2013, 01:26 PM
Yeah bikini island didn't turn out that well either, we sure screwed the natives out of that one too, and gave them radiation poisoning when we placed them on a nearby island "to keep them safe"

all the while not knowing jack ****e about isotope ratio's and creating a bomb 4 times larger than it should have been...


Anyone interested in watching "the worlds biggest bomb" can tune into PBS and look up the series "secrets of the dead"

It was a doozie - but then it got trumped to look like a small firecracker after the Russians set off the big kahuna - and after the Russian leader seen what it could do he ended the program...

Images
04-20-2013, 01:53 PM
OK, I'll chime in and say... WOW.
I rescind my earlier comments that it might have been anhydrous, based on todays' revelation that they were storing 270 TONS of AN on property. Thats just crazy. But I will reiterate my concern that there are thousands of farm supply places like West, spread all over the midwest.
I pity the honest operators out there, they are going to be completely over run by inspectors this summer.

J Tiers
04-20-2013, 02:42 PM
J,

I was just trying to make a point about the mindset, not criticize this particular plant.

Explosives factory = dangerous. Fertilizer factory = ho hum.



Wasn't aimed at you......... Lots of folks commenting on having it "right next to a school", etc. In fact there was a fair bit of space around it. Obviously not enough, but also was not in the center of town, either.

As for the location....

grain elevators are pretty commonly in town, they explode from time to time as well. And the house gas explosion in Indianapolis did an amount of damage which is very significant.... not quite what one would call "comparable", but...........

Risks exist, and it's easy to pick on unusual events, howling after the fact that there "oughtta be a law".....

There are a lot of fertilizer dealers in the US...... I don't recall another one exploding recently, although I am certain that some have had fires. On the other hand, a number of houses have exploded over the last few years just here in St Louis, due to leaking gas, pure chance that none were as bad as the criminals in Indianapolis caused. Some were due to the local utility making bad choices. If you live in town, you are in danger from your neighbors, their place isn't OSHA inspected.

If they had 270 tons of AN (hadn't seen that), it seems pretty obvious not all of it exploded..... the hole isn't THAT big. Some union striker shot a dynamite truck in Illinois years ago during a strike..... made a hole about like that, but it was one truck, and wouldn't have been fully loaded.

Still, if you sell the stuff, you's expect to have a good supply.... 270T doesn't seem like that much, its a bunch of pallets, but there looks to be a lot of farmland, and anything you spread by the acre goes fast. Even if you just lime a field.... that can get into the tons per acre range, and Texas is large..

I wonder if they had it all jammed together? The place seems to have been lax on safety, or unaware.... they didn't think they had any flammables, despite 24T of ammonia in tanks. They may not have been fully aware that AN can get unstable with heating, and start reacting... building up more heat until the reaction gets self-sustaining. I wasn't until I did some research. But you'd suppose they had an MSDS for it.

tlfamm
04-20-2013, 04:37 PM
...But if you want to set up a fertilizer factory, you just put it in town and pack the buildings together with no barriers. After all, it is just fertilizer...

My father spent 41 years at a chemical plant located about 15(?) miles from Baltimore, Maryland: the primary output was sulfuric acid (by the rail-car or freighter), but they also produced AN-bearing fertilizers. I'm not sure how many tons would be on hand at any given time (and any municipal limits on same) - but the siting of the plant doesn't look particularly auspicious in hindsight.

Evan
04-20-2013, 04:56 PM
I pity the honest operators out there, they are going to be completely over run by inspectors this summer.

There is a good chance that when the insurance companies get done with this they will be out of business. A number of states already tightly restrict the use of AN as there are better substitutes.

Stern
04-20-2013, 07:58 PM
Its really sad when things like this happen, but there are LOTS of things as bad, if not worse than AN, and it usually takes an accident for anyone to take notice. Where I grew up we had a train tracks at our back yard, for the GO and via trains as well as CN and CP freight. We also have a factory there that my brother worked at, and in the yard were large chemical vats for holding stuff. Most people in the area would have crapped themselves if they had any idea what was in those tanks. One contained Methyl Methacrylate, which is a pretty nasty polymer for making Plexiglass. Toxic, flammable, and sensitive to bumps (mechanical shock ... you know, like Nitroglycerin and Mercury Fulminate). Since its not made in Canada, its trucked in from the US in rail cars. If one car of this stuff derailed, it would sure be a big show.

Bottom line is care must be taken with any hazardous material, which most plants are very serious about implementing. Problem is when you work with something day in and day out, you get laxical ..... I mean how many out there dont think twice about storing and handling gasoline ? You get used to things and thats usually when we get a "Whooops"

J. Randall
04-20-2013, 11:01 PM
Wasn't aimed at you......... Lots of folks commenting on having it "right next to a school", etc. In fact there was a fair bit of space around it. Obviously not enough, but also was not in the center of town, either.

As for the location....

grain elevators are pretty commonly in town, they explode from time to time as well. And the house gas explosion in Indianapolis did an amount of damage which is very significant.... not quite what one would call "comparable", but...........

Risks exist, and it's easy to pick on unusual events, howling after the fact that there "oughtta be a law".....

There are a lot of fertilizer dealers in the US...... I don't recall another one exploding recently, although I am certain that some have had fires. On the other hand, a number of houses have exploded over the last few years just here in St Louis, due to leaking gas, pure chance that none were as bad as the criminals in Indianapolis caused. Some were due to the local utility making bad choices. If you live in town, you are in danger from your neighbors, their place isn't OSHA inspected.

If they had 270 tons of AN (hadn't seen that), it seems pretty obvious not all of it exploded..... the hole isn't THAT big. Some union striker shot a dynamite truck in Illinois years ago during a strike..... made a hole about like that, but it was one truck, and wouldn't have been fully loaded.

Still, if you sell the stuff, you's expect to have a good supply.... 270T doesn't seem like that much, its a bunch of pallets, but there looks to be a lot of farmland, and anything you spread by the acre goes fast. Even if you just lime a field.... that can get into the tons per acre range, and Texas is large..

I wonder if they had it all jammed together? The place seems to have been lax on safety, or unaware.... they didn't think they had any flammables, despite 24T of ammonia in tanks. They may not have been fully aware that AN can get unstable with heating, and start reacting... building up more heat until the reaction gets self-sustaining. I wasn't until I did some research. But you'd suppose they had an MSDS for it.

J, if they had it in that large amount, I highly doubt it would be on pallets, probably kept in bins in the bulk, where they could just pull a truck or fertilizer spreader under a spout and load and then weigh it out.
James

J Tiers
04-21-2013, 12:37 AM
Maybe, but it's heavy (1.7G/cm^3 or 1700kg /m^3), and there are standard sized pallet bins that are easy to ship. They probably wouldn't keep that much around all the time, it would likely be a spring thing.

If I have not messed up the calculation, a 42 x 48 x 48 pallet bin would hold 56 cubic feet, or 1.6 m^3, suggesting a pallet bin would hold 2720 kg of solid material, or just about 3 tons. Now, most likely the granular is more like 2 tons per pallet, 135 pallets, or roughly 40 x 50 feet floor area.... perfectly practical.

A bin for it, which I agree they might have had in order to direct load spreaders, would need to be pretty strong to hold 270 tons high enough to drive under it. I didn't see such a thing in the pictures, but it might have been there. Of course, that much in one bin would be hard to heat up to the point of "cooking off".

it's a bit easier to believe in a fire in a warehouse area heating up several pallets worth to explosion temperatures.... it would only take a few tons to do what was done, even though it isn't nearly as strong an explosive without the fuel oil.

No matter how you slice it, it's a big loss of life and a lot of injuries, a big mess all around that didn't have to happen.

Ohio Mike
04-21-2013, 10:29 AM
Coming from an Ag background I can say that although 270 tons seems like a lot its not. Also for some uses Ammonium Nitrate is preferred because of its high reactivity and relatively high nitrogen content (34%). It gives a quick nitrogen release unlike Urea based nitrogen (45%) which is much more stable. Ammonium Nitrate is also easily dissolved into solution so it can be strayed over plants in an operation known as top dressing. It all depends on what you what to accomplish.

wierdscience
04-21-2013, 12:15 PM
270tons isn't that much,it's 11 truck trailer loads,our local farm co-op store has probably a 100 tons in bulk bin storage and there isn't as much farming going on here.

Also it does no good to start speculating that the company did something wrong as criminal activity hasn't been ruled out.

Evan
04-21-2013, 01:57 PM
Its really sad when things like this happen, but there are LOTS of things as bad, if not worse than AN, and it usually takes an accident for anyone to take notice.

That is certainly true. Just look up the accident history of Ethylene Oxide. That stuff is used to make all sorts of things such as antifreeze and is about as dangerous as it gets. It will explode with incredible force at any stage of processing just because it feels like it. In one example less than half a pound, about one cup exploded throwing a 1000 pound motor and compressor 60 feet in the air. That was after it stripped off the 8 3/4" SS bolts holding the compressor together. That was just a tiny accident compared to the very numerous serious ones.

J Tiers
04-21-2013, 02:08 PM
Also it does no good to start speculating that the company did something wrong as criminal activity hasn't been ruled out.

THAT's absolutely the truth..... start with the question "what was burning that was so hard to put out?" a steel building warehouse with bagged stuff on pallets, binned stuff, or a steel bin..... where's the large amount of combustibles? pallets don't light well.

if some low-life broke in and poured diesel on it, that's a different thing.

Apparently we may never know what the FD thought about it, unless someone was not killed. I have not heard anything about that.

MSDS for AN
http://avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS/NH4NO3.htm

note flammability is 0, autoignition and flash points are "not applicable".

Evan
04-21-2013, 02:10 PM
AN doesn't ignite, it decomposes. That is an important distinction.

Part of the Canadian regs:



(b) ammonium nitrate undergoes thermal decomposition when heated to temperatures above about 150F and, under certain conditions, some of which are mentioned below, this decomposition may become dangerous; because ammonium nitrate is usually stored in very large quantities, it has the potential to escalate an ordinary fire into an event approaching disaster proportions and for this reason, even a very small probability of occurrence cannot be ignored;...

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/C.R.C.,_c._1145/page-11.html

Evan
04-21-2013, 02:32 PM
Here is an interesting bit from the Canadian regs;


(3) Notwithstanding subsection (1), equipment or vehicles powered by internal combustion engines employing a flammable fuel may be used in a storage facility if their exhausts are equipped with spark arrestor devices, but they shall not be fuelled, repaired or maintained in the storage facility, and except as provided in subsection (4), they shall not be parked in a storage facility overnight or during other periods when the storage facility is unattended for more than four hours.

This means that the parking of the tank trucks at the Texas plant would violate our regs unless they had a guard. That is particularly applicable to the possiblility of fuel theft which may have something to do with such an accident and is the probable reason for the regulation (subsection 4 allows overnight vehicles in facilities with less than 3000 lbs of AN).

J Tiers
04-21-2013, 07:20 PM
What's a "facility"?

The entire grounds of the whole place? What if it is 50 acres?

The storage area specifically for AN?

A separate area with a locked door between?

Do they specify the distance away that is no longer "the facility"?

Evan
04-21-2013, 07:26 PM
Read the regs.

Rosco-P
04-23-2013, 12:06 PM
I've noticed that when businesses are far from the nearest housing, workers eventually build nearby. Then shops, schools, churches and such follow.

Spreckels, California was one such instance. It grew up around the Spreckels sugar factory, despite the tendency of sugar plants to occasionally have explosive events.

Reading the wiki for West, it appears that the town grew for other reasons. :)

Dan

Maybe this latest accident will spur new legislation reading something like:

If the owners of a dangerous industrial plant formerly situated in "bum**** Egypt" find that their plant has become encroached upon by residential development, said owners of dangerous industrial plant must relocate the premises to a more remote location, the costs of which are to be borne solely by the owners of said business.

Little doubt that the above proposed zoning legislation will be enacted in Kalifornia in some shape or form.

dp
04-23-2013, 12:10 PM
the costs of which are to be borne solely by the owners of said business.

The cost will be borne by the customers of the business, but is still a good idea. In practice they likely will move to China.

MrSleepy
04-23-2013, 12:17 PM
Little doubt that the above proposed zoning legislation will be enacted in Kalifornia in some shape or form.

Or they will(maybe should) do as Conoco did at South Killingholme and buy up every inch of surrounding land for miles to stop encroachment.

If/When a farmer dies with property adjoining Conoco his heirs become very rich when Conoco purchase.

That said...we now have some lovely parks and walks thanks to them.

Evan
04-23-2013, 12:59 PM
Read the Canadian regs. They don't outlaw AN, they do make sure that if followed there is virtually no chance of a similar disaster. If not followed you will be out of business shortly. There isn't a good reason not to invoke such legislation. AN is dangerous, obviously. This is not the first such disaster nor the tenth.

Here is a list of 19 major explosions with fatalities:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Au5EaQXOeZRGdF93MHRBQmxtYWU0Ukd4ZUs1ME9oa 2c#gid=0

wierdscience
04-23-2013, 01:58 PM
Maybe this latest accident will spur new legislation reading something like:

If the owners of a dangerous industrial plant formerly situated in "bum**** Egypt" find that their plant has become encroached upon by residential development, said owners of dangerous industrial plant must relocate the premises to a more remote location, the costs of which are to be borne solely by the owners of said business.

Little doubt that the above proposed zoning legislation will be enacted in Kalifornia in some shape or form.

You've got it backwards if the plant was there first then those encroaching should be forced out at prevailing market price.Those that refuse to leave should have no ability to file suit if an accident occurs.

Guido
04-23-2013, 03:00 PM
Didn't Henderson, Nv, in 1988, have 4500 tons of ammonium perchlorate let fly. Should have made the Google spreadsheet of biggies---------Good video of shockwave, history on Google 'Pepcon'. 2 killed.
Close by, overhead, a 747 felt the blast.
-G

Rosco-P
04-23-2013, 06:49 PM
You've got it backwards if the plant was there first then those encroaching should be forced out at prevailing market price.Those that refuse to leave should have no ability to file suit if an accident occurs.


Sorry my tongue in cheek reply was misinterpreted. I was posting what the safety nuts would legislate if allowed.

wierdscience
04-23-2013, 08:07 PM
Sorry my tongue in cheek reply was misinterpreted. I was posting what the safety nuts would legislate if allowed.

Ah,missed the sarcasm,partly my fault:)