The disaster of an Explosion at a Fertilizer Plant
Fertilizer manufacture is an essential sector throughout America because this organic and inorganic matter is used to supplement soil with the addition of appropriate nutrients for increased crop production. However, the manufacture of this essential compound has grown to a possible manmade disaster in the social-economic environment. The risk can be attributed to the compounds used in the manufacturing of fertilizers, for synthetic fertilizers. A typical synthetic fertilizer contains three primary compounds, that is, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. One of the elements, nitrogen, is used to prepare ammonia, the main ingredient used to prepare Ammonium nitrate, which is the fertilizer. The compound Ammonium Nitrate is highly explosive. Hence, fire explosions are one of the hazards that a fertilizer plant in a neighbouring town poses. Also, fertilizer plants use other hazardous chemicals and materials in their production processes. Some of the chemicals are anhydrous ammonia and decomposed gases of nitrogen oxides (Babrauskas, 2018). The chemical poses inhalation hazards. In this discussion, hazards involved in a fertilizer plant, vulnerabilities and how these hazards can be mitigated will be discussed.
Hazards: Fire and Decomposition
One of the hazards of a fertilizer plant near a small rural town is fire explosion. Willey (2020) argues that most fertilizers are stable, but materials such as ammonium nitrate, an oxidizing agent, have caused fire problems in the plants and surrounding areas. According to Willey (2020), ammonium nitrate by itself does not burn, but because it is an oxidizing agent, it can facilitate the initiation of fire and also increase the intensity of fires. This fire can start and spread extremely quickly in a small town in a rural setting; in a small rural town, there are minimal buildings; hence, there is much land out, which can make it difficult to control the fire outbreak. Therefore, with the widespread fire, almost every property will be swept away by the fire. The hazard of fire ultimately will lead to loss of properties and life. For instance, in April 2013, a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded caused and left more than 70 people dead. Also, hundreds were injured, and the properties of the local community were damaged (Babrauskas, 2018).
Inhalation of poisonous emissions from fertilizer plants is another hazard that cannot be left undiscussed. During the fertilizer production process, some toxic gases are emitted. In other words, during the production of fertilizers, ammonium nitrate is heated, and at the temperature of 210 °C, the reaction starts the formation of nitrous oxide gases (Willey, 2020). Nitrogen oxide gases are highly toxic if inhaled by individuals. The release of the toxic is a hazard attributed to the decomposition of ammonium oxide. In cases where the plant is unable to fully manage the emission of these gases, the gases will be released into the atmosphere and to the adjacent locations. A small rural town might not have a high population, but the emission of these gases can have adverse effects on the respiratory tract of the people inhaling them. The hazard of nitrogen oxide gases causes damage to the human respiratory tract. Since small towns are not overcrowded, the diffusion of these gases is very fast, hence, easily inhaled and causing chronic respiratory diseases to people.
Vulnerabilities: Human Factors and Resources
For a small rural town housing a fertilizer plant, the main vulnerabilities would the human factors such as education and emergency response facilities. The people residing in a small rural town have limited access to resources that help reduce their vulnerabilities (Barroca, 2018). Compared to urban areas, people in a rural community might not be well educated on disasters that a fertilizer-producing plant might pose. With a lack of education, people residing around the fertilizer plant cannot learn how to avoid or respond to hazards posed by the plant. Hence, a lack of education means a lack of knowledge of possible hazards and, ultimately lack of knowledge on how to respond to a disaster when it occurs.
Resources in terms of wealth, infrastructure and housing can make the rural town vulnerable to the hazard posed by the fertilizer plant. Good infrastructure and good housing can help mitigate the spread of fires in the town. For instance, in many instances, in small rural towns, the road networks are poor, and once an explosion or fire outbreak occurs, it makes it difficult for fire extinguishers to quickly find a way for swift emergency response. Additionally, people in a small rural town generally do not have the capacity to build well-built housing that can withstand extreme events such as fires (Barroca, 2018). Again they lack enough finances to purchase disaster response or even afford insurance policies. Hence, these factors of lack of economic resources put the people leave at high risk of being affected by the hazards from the fertilizer plant.
The plant plays a considerable responsibility in the prevention of hazard exposure to the public. The risk of fire caused mainly by ammonium nitrate compound can be reduced through proper storage of the chemical. Davis et al. (2017) recommend that there should be the implementation of measures which include storage that maintains ammonium nitrate in its stable state since its less stable state renders it weak and vulnerable to explosion and fire initiation. The storage of ammonium also includes the storage facility of the chemical. The storage facility should be made of non-combustible materials so that in case of a fire explosion, the fire facility cannot allow the spread of the fire because the facility in which the compound is stored cannot allow combustion.
The decomposition of ammonium nitrate can also be mitigated to avoid toxic and hazardous emissions. As stated earlier, ammonium nitrate decomposition is achieved at high temperatures. The decomposition of ammonium nitrate can be reduced by removing unnecessary exposure of the compound to heat (Davis et al., 2017). Unnecessary exposure includes storing the compound in places with factors that can lead to its dissociation, including acids, heat, and elements such as lead and copper. Also, the fertilizer plant appliances that help reduce exposure to gas should undergo regular inspection. Also, the combustion materials in the production of fertilizers must be correctly installed and maintained to reduce nitrogen oxide exposure and release. If the above are met, the likely hazards in a fertilizer plant would be swiftly managed.
In sum, a fertilizer plant set up in a small rural town can pose various hazards. The hazard of fire outbreaks and the decomposition of chemical compounds are the main ones in this discussion. Fire is, in most instances, likely to occur because of the ammonium nitrate compound used in the plants, which is highly explosive. Additionally, the compound highly dissociates so that gases such as nitrogen oxide are released into the atmosphere and which causes respiratory tract ailments if inhaled. Moreover, a fertilizer plant in a small rural town poses a significant danger because the area is highly vulnerable. The vulnerability is attributed to the low economic ability and education levels posed by the people of the town. To mitigate the impacts of these hazards on these vulnerable people, measures such as non-combustible storage facilities can be implemented in the firm.
Babrauskas, V. (2018). The ammonium nitrate explosion at West, Texas: a disaster that could have been avoided. Fire and Materials, 42(2), 164-172. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/fam.2468
Barroca, B. (2018). Vulnerability, urban design and resilience management. Natural Hazards – Risk Assessment and Vulnerability Reduction. https://doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.78585
Davis, S., DeBold, T., & Marsegan, C. (2017). Investigation findings and lessons learned in the west fertilizer explosion. Journal of Fire Sciences, 35(5), 379-395. https://doi.org/10.1177/0734904117715649
Willey, R. J. (2020). The nature of ammonium nitrate decomposition and explosions. Process Safety Progress, 39(4), e12214.