Retail Fertilizer Facility Explosion in Texas: The Danger of Making Cheap Food

Article by Jennifer Woods, written for Good Food Finder.

The details about this massive explosion in Texas this week in are still coming out but we know that the fallout is nothing short of a disaster.

The small fire that may have been caused by a cigarette at a retail fertilizer facility in Texas has killed at least 5 and as many as 15.  The city has been in the process of evacuating from the toxic fumes.

Modern Farmer magazine investigated and explains the risky business of commercial fertilizers.   And they are risky, indeed.

Ireland and several other countries have banned ammonium nitrate, the synthetic chemical compound in question in these fertilizer explosions.  Many of today's media stories are referencing America's deadliest industrial disaster at the Port of Texas City in 1941 when 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded killing 531 people. That same 1941 disaster also initiated the first class-action lawsuit against our government under the Federal Tort Claims Act that had been enacted just one year earlier.

Businessweek recounted the French fertilizer plant explosion from 2001, killing 31 and causing $3 billion in property damage.

This latest Texas tragedy makes us question why a dangerous facility (housing a known dangerous flammable substance) could have been located so close to so many schools and care facilities.

There was a Congressional hearing before the Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack in 2005 regarding ammonium nitrate and it's capacity to act as a small atomic weapon.  It appears from recent events, that another look at the safety (or lack thereof) should be considered.

Of course, ammonium nitrate is cheap and easy and we understand why that would be desirable to shareholders in the business of making a profit.  Still, why are we using explosive fertilizer? Apparently, the human cost is less important than saving a buck.

“A ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer costs, on average, about $100 less than a ton of anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, one of the best alternatives…It’s quite effective with fruit trees, for example, providing more efficient nitrogen delivery than ammonium sulfate. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer is also popular for top-dressing pastures at midsummer since it evaporates more slowly than some competitors.” - Brendan Koerner, Slate Magazine

What do you think needs to happen to keep more people safe from horrific disasters such as these? Tell us your thoughts.

(Video from New York Times article: Dozens Injured in Fertilizer Plant Explosion in Texas)