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Boy, I just listened to the hourly NPR news about the TX blast. It quoted a DHS official as claiming the anhydrous ammonia stored under pressure in tanks on site were what exploded. That's total bullshit, any check of Wikipedia would demonstrate that. It can be flammable under certain circumstances - and a leak in the line may have been responsible for the original fire - but it doesn't blow up like a McVeigh truck bomb or small nuke.

I got a live feed from a Waco station beginning about 11 pm last night when I first heard about the explosion. The station had people on-site and a helicopter, it was dedicated coverage. That would have been 10 pm Texas time, just a couple of hours after the big blow. They carried an interview with some plant official (don't know if it was an owner), who expressed sincere shock that the explosion was so huge. Duh. Like he believed the PR that the plant wasn't dangerous, which is no doubt why the town built a school, apartments and a nursing home next to it.

Anyway, from the helicopter above the factory the situation was being explained. The tanks of liquid anhydrous ammonia were to the right of the frame. Pretty dented, but intact. The explosion, they explained per info given by the company guy, happened on the other side of the facility - to the left of the frame - where the dry ammonium nitrate fertilizer was stored. The factory apparently used the anhydrous ammonia for the chemical process of making ammonium nitrate fertilizer. It was not said whether or not the dry fertilizer was stored inside or outside the plant, but it's spring and as a supplier to area farmers they had quite a lot of it on hand.

Per Wikipedia, under "Production" -

The processes involved in the production of ammonium nitrate in industry, although chemically simple, are technologically challenging. The acid-base reaction of ammonia with nitric acid gives a solution of ammonium nitrate...

For industrial production, this is done using anhydrous ammonia gas and concentrated nitric acid. This reaction is violent and very exothermic. After the solution is formed, typically at about 83% concentration, the excess water is evaporated to an ammonium nitrate [AN] content of 95 to 99.9% concentration [AN melt], depending on grade. The AN melt is then made into "prills" or small beads in a spray tower, or into granules by spraying and tumbling in a rotating drum. The prills or granules may be further dried, cooled, and then coated to prevent caking. These prills or granules are the typical AN products in commerce.

...and the end product of the factory in question. Under the heading of "Safety, handling and storage" -
Heating or any ignition source may cause violent combustion or explosion. Ammonium nitrate reacts with combustible and reducing materials as it is a strong oxidant. Although it is mainly used for fertilizer it can be used for explosives. It was sometimes used to blast away earth to make farm ponds. Ammonium nitrate is also used to modify the detonation rate of other explosives. Examples will be ammonia dynamites [Nitroglycerin].
Nope. No danger to the general public there! Good grief. Why Homeland Security is fudging the facts the following morning is a mystery to me. I mean, wouldn't their 'experts' know which of these ammonia compounds is explosive and which is not? Timothy McVeigh knew the difference, obviously. Lots and lots of other people do too.

I'd hate to think that DHS would deliberately lie to the public about this incident, but the fact is they are not telling the truth. Surely it couldn't have anything remotely to do with how this factory has steadfastly presented itself to the public it has now devastated as "No Danger To The General Public." It's been there for 40 years. That was BEFORE the town allowed a school, a nursing home and an apartment complex to be built right damned next to it.

I don't know and wouldn't hazard a guess as to whether this disaster was somehow deliberate (arson?) or the supposedly "controlled burn of loose pellets" I've also seen reported this morning. Which is also bullshit, for many other reasons. But this stuff is NOT that difficult to figure out, and officials of Texas and DHS and OSHA and whatever negligent regulatory agencies are out there can do a Google as easily as I can. They are lying about the disaster at this point in time, were not lying about it within just a couple of hours of the explosion last night.

Why is that? I mean, it's not like people don't know or can't find out about "fertilizer bombs" and how they've been put to bad use over the years. These lies are transparent mumbo-jumbo as totally UNscientific as claims that GW isn't real or the earth is 6,000 years old. Religion does not trump chemistry. This is chemistry.

WTF is going on??!?

UPDATE 4/19: NBC News Reports today that the West Fertilizer distribution center reported to the state in February that it was storing 270 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer on site, along with "up to" 110,000 pounds [55 tons] of liquid anhydrous ammonia in its tanks.

Also, the report notes that this facility did not produce fertilizer, it merely stockpiled fertilizers for distribution to area farmers, and had a workforce of 8 people, no nighttime security, and no safety systems installed. First responders in the town had apparently not been told that there was AN fertilizer on site, they believed the less volatile liquid anhydrous ammonia was the most dangerous substance at the warehouse.

The company had insisted nothing at the plant presented fire or explosive hazard, described their "worst case scenario" as total release of one anhydrous ammonia tank as gas (which is poisonous) over a 10 minute period, indicating how quickly liquid anhydrous ammonia transitions from pressurized liquid to lighter than air gas.

For comparison purposes, Timothy McVeigh totalled the Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City with 3 1/4 tons of AN fertilizer mixed with fuel oil in a rental truck. 270 tons is considerably more.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Burning pallets at the factory in February (22+ / 0-)

    WISD Temporary Evacuation Letter Feb 2013

    This morning, West Intermediate School was evacuated temporarily because of a concerning fire from the fertilizer plant located near the school . The evacuation was executed in calm, but serious fashion, where students and staff eventually gathered at West Middle School for 30 minutes or so. The District and WIS were not notified ahead of time that the fertilizer plant was carrying out a controlled burn of pallets and brush.
    Locals knew.

    Republicans: They hate us for our Freedom.

    by mikeconwell on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:04:56 AM PDT

  •  Yep. (9+ / 0-)

    This was almost certainly a deflagration to detonation event in the storage hopper[s] of ammonium nitrate.

    “What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” - Sherwood Rowland

    by jrooth on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:09:06 AM PDT

  •  It can be made to explode ? (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, erush1345, cotterperson, Sylv, Sunspots

    Anhydrous ammonia (ammonia without water) can be a substitute for petroleum as a transportation fuel. It has the potential to make the hydrogen economy a reality in the near-term, at an affordable cost.  It is an energy form that is manufactured.  It can be made from all primary energy sources so production sources can be diversified or production can focus on the cheapest, cleanest and greenest source.  Ammonia can be used in internal combustion engines with minor modifications.

    Drop the name-calling MB 2/4/11 + Please try to use ratings properly! Kos 9/9/11

    by indycam on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:15:03 AM PDT

  •  indeed (5+ / 0-)

    my first thought was ammonium nitrate.  But exacly what  happened here will need to be clarified as it needs to combine with something flammable to cause an explosion

    Ammonium nitrate reacts with combustible and reducing materials as it is a strong oxidant.
  •  Love your line: (9+ / 0-)

    Religion does not trump chemistry.

    Be the change you want to see in the world. -Gandhi

    by DRo on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:33:53 AM PDT

  •  Deja vu for one poor guy (7+ / 0-)
    For longtime West Justice of the Peace David Pareya, the job ahead of him is bringing back horrible memories.

    Pareya, who narrowly escaped serious injury himself after the explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant Wednesday night, is preparing to sift through debris and possibly pronounce dead some of his good friends.

    Twenty years ago this week, Pareya was among a team of justices of the peace who walked through the charred remains of the Branch Davidian compound near Elk to view the remains of David Koresh and 75 of his followers.

    “This brings back some very bad memories,” Pareya said Thursday morning.

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:41:48 AM PDT

  •  After OKC, my dad was interviewed by (7+ / 0-)

    the news explaining how fertilizer can be used to make bombs. My dad said it basically IS a bomb.

    “liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing that we do” --Richard Rorty Also, I moved from NYC, so my username is inaccurate.

    by jeff in nyc on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:43:16 AM PDT

    •  I called my dad and he clarified that this (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Kind of fertilizer, if stored properly, would not explode in a fire, but that if it can't ventilate or is contained by a structure or even if bags of it are stacked too tightly or too high that the explosive reaction can occur. The other way it happens is by adding something like a type of petroleum to it on purpose. Likewise, safer recipes are common that produce ammonium nitrate that would not explode at all, but just have a gaseous release when exposed to fire.

      “liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing that we do” --Richard Rorty Also, I moved from NYC, so my username is inaccurate.

      by jeff in nyc on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:31:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  apparently fighting a fire associated with these (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    erush1345, Joieau, cotterperson, Sunspots

    chemicals must be done correctly or risk causing or enhancing an explosion. Anhydrous ammonia... spraying water on it I read can cause aggressive vaporization... so makes it a perfect analog to a fuel air bomb...

    So if that is so, a big enough  cloud and plenty of additional material to feed it would generate a really really big explosion!...

    Pogo & Murphy's Law, every time. Also "Trust but verify" - St. Ronnie (hah...)

    by IreGyre on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 09:45:47 AM PDT

  •  "...there have been at least 17 major explosions (9+ / 0-)

    worldwide since 1921. (WaPo article: How Common Is This?)

    ...the explosion does call attention to the $10-billion dollar U.S. fertilizer industry...

    Fertilizer production comes with some occasional risks. The ammonium nitrate that’s commonly used for synthetic fertilizer can explode if ignited at very high temperatures. That’s fairly rare, but it does happen — there have been at least 17 major explosions worldwide since 1921...

    Six of those have occurred in the United States.

    The largest and deadliest took place in 1947, when a fire on board a French vessel docked in the Port of Texas City detonated some 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate. All told, 581 people died — including most of Texas City’s fire department. It still ranks as the deadliest industrial accident the country has ever seen....

    It would seem logical--if this were a logical world--to not build residences, schools and/or nursing homes anywhere near to plants processing such a potentially dangerous substance.

    BTW, check out the map in the article, of fertilizer plants across the US, if you want to see if there's one near you.

    As of now, the causes of the explosion are still being investigated.  

    "ATF is conducting the main investigation..."

    "As they gained access to the explosion site, officials said they were treating it as a crime scene.

    We are not indicating that it is a crime, but we don't know," Swanton said. "What that means to us is that until we know that it is an industrial accident, we will work it as a crime scene. ATF [the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] is conducting the main investigation..."

  •  Depends (6+ / 0-)

    Anhydrous ammonia is actually very difficult to get to ignite, and once it ignites, the reaction rate of its combustion is usually rather slow. There have to generally be catalysts etc to speed it up. Explosive? Not under most conditions, no, not even vaguely.

    But if you heat almost anything being held under pressure in a chamber -- at it has to be, it would boil off at room temp otherwise -- you do have exactly one form of bomb, more or less. And if the containment vessel fails, depending on the details, that is a whole heap of energy getting tossed at the stuff all at once.

    Enough for this level of explosion? Hm. I dunno. I am way too tired to do the rough math.

    Adding water to it all at once would be... unpleasant... too, by the by, as mentioned above.

    I don't think this is impossible. I do think I see a whole ton of misinformation about anhydrous ammonia etc flying hither and yon. I would have to know more or think harder than I'm doing right now to figure out whether I really believe the heated-pressurized-ammonia as the sole source of this level of explosion. Not impossible.

    •  To add, though (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Joieau, cotterperson, Sylv, Quicklund

      I suspect -- though I would need to know a lot more about their pressurized containment than I do -- that it would still take a pretty hot fire in the first place, unless their tanks were pretty crappy.

      So there's still the remaining question of what started the fire, and what it was burning, and so on.

    •  The tanks of liquid (6+ / 0-)

      anhydrous ammonia were dented by the big explosion, but did not themselves blow up (they're still there in all their dented glory). The blast came from the other side of the plant, where the AN fertilizer it produces is stored. Took awhile for the original fire to get there.

      •  Yeah, I don't know enough (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joieau, cotterperson, Quicklund, wonmug

        about any of the details here, clearly. And I suspect it'll be a little while before any of the official types are able to clarify things well or give us much from their investigation.

        Watching the discussions around chemical stuff in the press and on blogs is always a fun and endless facepalming, though. ;)

        Mostly, for me, at this moment -- just, good thoughts to West, TX. Even for those who are fine, that had to be terrifying.

        •  I wouldn't have cared (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cotterperson, Spit, Mr Robert, defluxion10

          if NPR hadn't been reporting bullshit this morning as if it were some kind of 'real' news. I mean, honestly. What is it with these people that they feel such an overwhelming need to 1) make up complete bullshit to tell the public, and 2) have actual nationwide mass media report it breathlessly as if it were true?

          I saw the live feed from the site last night, watched with amazement in the first hours after the blast with some fascination. Of course at that point nobody knows too much, but it sure seemed to me the principals were too much in shock to have yet concocted any slick lines of lies.

          Those had to wait until this morning, I guess. Some PR people were definitely working overtime through the night to come up with these particularly nonsensical ones.

        •  P.S. I am beginning to feel (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Sandino, Mr Robert, Bisbonian

          like DHS and all its assorted underling agencies of state and federal government are there only to produce lies and coverups of rampant corporate and governmental criminal activity on all levels.

          That's not a very good feeling.

          •  I understand the reaction (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Joieau, Sylv, Quicklund, wonmug

            In an emergency situation, there are a great many emergency communications types who think that their major role is to tell everybody that everything is under control and that they've got it all worked out and that there's nothing to see here.

            Drives me crazy. Happens at the local level, too.

            I don't think that can get pinned on all of them, and I don't think they're even trying to lie. I think it's a communications problem. I also think it ramps up the panic over time, when people realize over some length that they can't trust these folks to tell them what the heck is actually going on.

            As a much smaller example, our neighborhood once had a heavy storm that overran our combined storm/sewer, so one of the manhole things at our local park popped off, and there was this fountain of dilute raw sewage, many feet into the air, and flowing right into our local pond. Concerned neighbors told the city, and the city told them it was all fine, no concern.

            Then, of course, two days later, the dead fish all floated to the shore. Now, I know that this is because of the sewage decomposition etc, that these fish suffocated, more or less. But my neighbors don't know that, they just see a pond full of dead fish.

            (My concerns were not about the dead fish, but I had others. But when most people see a pond full of dead fish, like, in the park where their kids play, that is disconcerting, to say the least.)

            The official communicator types were vastly more concerned with calming us than they were with making sure we had timely information for dealing with a potential health hazard, though. Nobody in that neighborhood ever listened to them again. It just made it harder for people to feel calm, because we all knew that if there ever was good reason to worry and act for safety, they wouldn't be telling us that. Because, um, Don't Panic, I guess.

            The media goes on to utterly mangle it, too. I am constantly aghast at the "science reporting" out there.

          •  Bingo (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Our government's Ministry of Truth is on the job.

            The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

            by Mr Robert on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 11:53:02 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  What motivation do Federal employees have? (0+ / 0-)

            Why is anyone in the DHS motivated to cover up the bad decisions made by local officials, possibly made before the federal employees even started their jobs?

            This plant was located next to a nursing home and a school, not by federal authorities. The CIA, FBI, NSA, et al were not created to monitor Texas industrial practices. I don't get the linkage.

            Nor am I surprised that the American news media includes factual errors in its coverage of technical issues. Occam's Razor says technical mistakes by the media are most likely chalked up to the fact that news readers go to school to learn public speaking, not chemistry and physics.

            •  So. You're saying that the (0+ / 0-)

              pablum CNN and MSNBC and others have been peddling since ~8 am EDT today is MORE reliable than what was being reported - in live interviews - with the first responders and townfolk last night as it was taking place?

              Just so I'm clear on who cleared what with whom and all...

              •  No, (0+ / 0-)

                I am asking why I should conclude individuals working for the DHS would feel compelled to cover-up the shortcomings of local officials for whom they hold no responsibility.

                No, I am not saying the news orgs are more reliable. I am saying the opposite thing. It does not surprise me when they get things wrong. They do not always employ the sherpest knives. So I don't immediately assume it is intentional until simple human error is ruled out.

                •  There is no doubt plenty (0+ / 0-)

                  of human error in this to spread around. I was simply looking at the chemistry, being as this was a fertilizer plant and not some other sort of chemical factory of some sort. The product is ammonium nitrate fertilizer. One of the primary raw ingredients of that is anhydrous ammonia, like what gets shipped around via pipeline up and down the midcountry. So ammonium nitrate fertilizer can be made, close to where it's used. Because it's far too danged dangerous to ship around much pre-made.

                  The anhydrous was flammable, possibly explosive (but not noted for being particularly so) under certain conditions. What blew out a solid mile diameter of West, Texas last night was seriously explosive. That would, by rights of chemistry, be the ammonium nitrate rather than the anhydrous. That's all I'm saying. And wondering why national news can't get that much straight this morning, when it was clear last night.

        •  At this point, I'm waiting for the CSB (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I'm sure I'll see the news of the conclusions of the investigation when it comes out. But I've given up trying to discuss such things (at least to some degree) on non-chemistry blogs. Just pushing back on the idea that "pharma just piggybacks off NIH" is exhausting.

          •  Yep. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Joieau, Quicklund

            It never goes anywhere. Apparently, I shouldn't have wasted my time on all that coursework, I should have just read wikipedia. ;)

            Not new. Usually not worth the wasted breath, sadly.

          •  Anhydrous ammonia liquid (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mr Robert

            (under pressure) is transported through the midlands via pipeline, just like LNG. Only the anhydrous ammonia isn't as explosive upon rupture and evaporation as natural gas.

            The tanks of anhydrous ammonia at this facility in West were no more dangerous than the tanks of LNG you see feeding in from the gas fields to feeder pipelines throughout Texas and Oklahoma. And much less explosive.

            •  Yep. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I think my remaining question there is about the heat added to pressurized containment in a hot fire. At some point, the vessel (or line or whatever) may pop all at once, and that's a large, large amount of quick energy to the thing.

              Enough to ignite in essentially a huge firebomb? So much there would depend on the details.

              I could see this making a bad situation worse. But I think it already has to have been a bad situation.

              And as I said above, I don't think it's impossible to me, at a glance, to get this kind of huge-explosive situation with the right conditions, heat and pressure and a big wave if the thing gets a rupture -- things can act very differently, when you're talking about a massive set of sudden force, applied to a substance under high pressure. Enough for a very sudden pressure wave to combustion propagation in anhydrous ammonia? Maybe, it really kinda depends on the pressure and heat and so on, and on the details of the chamber rupture.

              But likely? I dunno. My hypothetical conditions would have to be fairly just-so. That can happen in real life, but it's always worth looking first at other ideas.

              I think I can see far likelier reactions causing a massive detonation, more or less, if there was a lot of ammonium nitrate on the premises. The anhydrous ammonia may be icing on the cake there, but a fire on the grounds of anywhere with a bunch of ammonium nitrate is far more likely to me, if indeed there was a bunch hanging out.

              I will await the details that can be known before I think too much about the rest.

  •  "Drowning government in a bathtub" (9+ / 0-)

    Zoning restrictions? Violation of property rights! So - no problem building houses and schools next to a fertilizer plant.

    OSHA inspections? Violation of property rights! I donwanna pay taxes for OSHA to inspect MY property! So- no oversight on the running of what amounted to a very large bomb.

    The explosion last night and resulting deaths and injuries were a direct result of minimal government oversight. I have been doing research on 19th  century American cities, and the same arguments against regulation were raised over a hundred years ago. Nothing has changed.

  •  The farmer's dynamite (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, Mr Robert, defluxion10, trumpeter

    noted in the original article would appear to be ammonium nitrate-fuel oil, with a blasting cap to set it off.

    There was, of course, the post-WW1 German installation in which the ammonium nitrate had been stored outside, had solidified due to rain, and the local police department --different country over there --supplied a very modest amount of industrial-strength dynamite to fragment it.  The report that it had been supplied apparently went off by teletype as the last communication from the locale.

    We can have change for the better.

    by phillies on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:24:36 AM PDT

  •  If the ammonia tanks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Joieau, defluxion10

    had busted open, and a massive cloud of anhydrous ammonia was released, you'd have even more casualties.
    Gaseous ammonia is heavier than air and won't dissipate rapidly.  It will creep along the ground like something out of a horror movie, suffocating folks in its path.

    Years ago an ammonia truck crashed on a highway, and a cloud released.  Car after car drove into the cloud and the drivers and passengers died.

    I've been involved for years in pressuring power plants to stop using and storing and transporting anhydrous ammonia, because there are safer alternative.s

    Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

    by 6412093 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:31:01 AM PDT

    •  Actually, anhydrous ammonia (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      6412093, Sylv, Mr Robert, defluxion10

      gas is lighter than air, would tend to rise and dissipate from tanks such as these. But you're absolutely right that it's deadly poisonous. That's why they evacuated the entire town last night and watched carefully to see where it might spread.

      The wind was high. That was lucky for dissipating the gas, but not particularly lucky for the claim of some sort of 'controlled burn' for the original fire. It was most certainly NOT a 'controlled burn' of any variety.

      •  Gasp (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Joieau, Sylv, defluxion10, Mr Robert

        you are right, thanks for the correction.

         I must have been thinking about hydrofluoric acid, which is heavier than air, and whose use is another pet peeve of mine.

        Oddly, I understand that strong winds don't always dissipate gasses, sometimes it blows the gas back down to the ground rather than let it rise and disperse.

        Orly, it isn't evidence just because you downloaded it from the internet.

        by 6412093 on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:56:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, wind does odd things (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mr Robert

          to plumes of gas and particulates. Fortunately in this case, it avoided poisoning the townsfolk and first responders.

          Back when Fukushima happened I got into several heated arguments with some nukes trying to minimize things (unlike this case, I actually DO understand why they lie like they breathe) about the plumes of contamination from the meltdowns and explosions. Used the analogy of a forest fire, since I've sure seen more of those than I'd like.

          Gas travels with the wind. Duh. In wind of a decent clip beneath a ceiling layer of heavier air it will corkscrew, rising up and then coming back down again in a corkscrew fashion before it finally dissipates. You can see smoke from a fire doing this. Radioactive gas and particulates are invisible, so nukes think they can get away with lying about it. This time they didn't get away with it, which is overall a good thing for public knowledge purposes. Plumes are plumes. They behave like plumes, even if you can't see or smell what they're carrying.

  •  Why? (6+ / 0-)
    They are lying about the disaster at this point in time, were not lying about it within just a couple of hours of the explosion last night.
    The Powers That Be had time overnight to decide what to say, i.e., get their stories together.

    Same thing happened with the tar sands spill in Mayflower, Ark., a few weeks ago. Same thing on 9/11 (many hours of news coverage at]).

    Though first reports are often inaccurate, sometimes looking back at them is revealing, especially if there is supporting physical or video evidence.


    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 10:31:30 AM PDT

    •  Very true, though (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sandino, cotterperson, Mr Robert

      I honestly don't see the rationale on this one. It's an industrial accident of considerable impact, but not exactly a mass meltdown and fancy fireworks show like Fukushima Daiichi or anything. Hell, I got the distinct feeling listening to plant 'officials' last night that they were as surprised as anybody - maybe didn't even know the dangers their plant REALLY presented. It's been there supplying local farmers and ranchers with fertilizer for 40 years, after all.

      It's not like a state secret that ammonium nitrate fertilizer can make a damned effective bomb or anything. I mean, really...

  •  I sure hope none of that AN (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    went missing before the fire and explosion. I imagine there are usually pretty tight controls of inventory and transfer of large quantities of ammonium nitrate. Hopefully factories that produce the stuff report thefts to DHS or the Texas Rangers or something. Just more stuff to worry about. Sorry.

    •  Meh. There's big ol' pipelines (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, Sandino, trumpeter

      transporting the stuff throughout the "breadbasket" to plants like this that use it to produce ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Which is used (mixed with 'inert ingredients' like coal fly ash and all its radioactive elements) to try and make productive once again the tens of millions of acres of once-fertile land this continent used to boast.

      After they plow in the chemical fertilizer, they apply your basic Agent Orange herbicide (2,4D, etc.) to try and kill off whatever "roundup ready" crop they grew last rotation. Then they plant this rotation's "roundup ready" multi-pesticide expressing GMO crop, and spray the hell out of it during its growth to kill any not-yet "roundup ready" superweeds that might foul their combines at harvest.

      It's all Big Agribiz out in that breadbasket these days. That's a much bigger shame than anybody really cares to address.

  •  Michiku Kiku [sp?] says it can, with water (0+ / 0-)

    Physics professor, on CBS morning news, said that it can explode if exposed to water.

    •  Yes, but not with megaton-oomph (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert

      like what happened here, flattening good portions of the town. The anhydrous ammonia was in tanks. The ammonium nitrate fertilizer was not. If you look for the original fire versus the Big Blowout, you can see that the fire hit something explosive, big time.

      The tanks, btw, were fine during the original fire, though I suppose a leak in a line may have been the cause of that original fire. It was not the cause of the small nuclear bomb strength explosion.

      And why in the world would Kaku even try to suggest it wasn't the ammonium nitrate fertilizer that blew? That's as odd as the garbage NPR was putting out this morning!

      This chemical factory used anhydrous ammonia to produce ammonium nitrate fertilizer. Which is the powerful explosive? Are the tanks (dented, but still standing) still there? Come on. This is getting beyond ridiculous.

      •  He didn't say it wasn't the fertilizer (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        He's pretty bright.  Barring better information, I'm going to go with his statement that under some conditions the materials at the plant can react with water and explode as it did.

        •  Ah. Presuming the predicate. (0+ / 0-)

          Neither you nor I know the gnarly details of this event. Something blew the hell up, either the flammable (but quickly evaporating and not impressively explosive) precursor, or the stored-in-springtime-amounts of product. AN fertilizer pellets. Which are quite notable as big boom explosives.

          It was a very impressive boom. My money's on AN.

  •  Bulk Ammonium Nitrate doesn't need anything (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mr Robert, Joieau

    to Burn/Explode once it reaches a high enough temp it decomposes with at first a burning-type of appearance then it Explodes as the decomposition accelerates.Two molecules of Ammonium Nitrate makes 2 Molecules of Nitrogen plus Heat and 4 Molecules of Water plus Heat and one Molecule of Oxygen plus Heat so 2 NH4NO3=2N2+4H2O+O2+Heat of course the Superheated Oxygen can then React with or burn anything it can find and I'm thinking that in a large quantity many Oxides of Nitrogen will form in the self-burning Ammonium Nitrate giving it many reddish to orange colors in the "flames".

  •  Easy to explain (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Quicklund, Joieau

    Never imply ulterior motives to an action when simple incompetence is a likelier explanation.

    This is how a CT gets started.

    “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” - Anais Nin

    by legendmn on Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 01:14:01 PM PDT

    •  It's really not a CT. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It's simply an observation about how 'Big Events' manage to get turned upside-down and sideways these days (though I'd suppose this has been happening forever for one reason or another since forever), when a plain truth would serve as well or better. Nobody's going to go out to this ruin and try to steal some AN fertilizer to make a rental truck bomb out of. Honest, this was a horrible accident that has devastated a whole town and a lot of people. A tragedy, from an accident. Even if negligence was involved at some regulatory juncture, nobody meant for it to happen.

      It's nothing at all even remotely related to the kind of terroristic gnarl that happened in Boston this week. It's just another semi-exciting, heartbreaking, and kind of interesting news event. That is the very reason I noticed the whole new story this morning, which bears little resemblance to what I was watching live last night. People could of course be wrong either way, last night live or today after everybody compared notes.

      The chemistry of this one more supports what I saw yesterday, less what I heard this morning. I don't know why, just pointing it out. And now wondering even more why there seems to be a push to insist it wasn't AN that made such a big boom. These tanks of anhydrous weren't that big, and are still standing (though dented). That's more than we can say about reinforced buildings farther away, isn't it? If so little anhydrous ammonia can literally flatten a half-mile around just from a brush fire, there's a gazillion miles of above-ground and underground pipeline carrying anhydrous ammonia under pressure to a lot of agricultural states, through and past lots of cities. THAT is a far, far bigger problem for "national security" than that one small-ish plant's stock of AN blew itself to kingdom come because the fire found it.


      •  See my comment (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:


        The Ammonium Nitrate at the plant was the most explosive substance far. So explosive in fact that I'm surprised so many buildings were zoned that close to the plant.
        The investigation has just started, but I would be very surprised if an explosion of that size was caused by something else...even Anhydrous Ammonia. There is no other logical conclusion.

        “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom” - Anais Nin

        by legendmn on Fri Apr 19, 2013 at 10:33:55 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  West Fertilizer Company reported (0+ / 0-)

          to the state (don't know which office, whatever one keeps track of this stuff) that they were storing "up to" 270 tons of ammonium nitrate dry fertilizer. Their tanks of anhydrous hold all of 55 tons of pressurized liquid.

          So I think it's pretty much a no-brainer that it was the AN that blew. The "worst case scenario" listed in the company's emergency plan was total failure of one of the anhydrous ammonia tanks (largest probably 20 or 30,000 gallons). Which would cause all of the liquified anhydrous ammonia in the tank to transition to gas, in about 10 minute's time. The gas is poisonous, that was the danger.

          It is also lighter than air. It is flammable as liquid, but if it only takes ten minutes to turn 30,000 gallons into rising gas if a main pipe blows or tank weld fails, I can't imagine that a leak in a lower transfer pipe could have contributed significantly to the original fire, even. It would have evaporated too fast to burn that hot and heavy, from videos I saw of the original fire. So now I'm back to wondering what was on fire in the first place...

          The emergency plan apparently didn't include any kind of "worst case scenario" for 270 tons of ammonium nitrate. But we've all now seen what that scenario looks like.

  •  With a big enough fire, and this fire got big, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    liquid anhydrous ammonia in pressurized tanks could, yes, and reportedly did, explode.

    It has been reported that a partial evacuation had begun when the plant blew.

    •  Huh. Have you viewed (0+ / 0-)

      the after-dark helicopter overheads from last night? I ask, because if you did, you would see that the tanks (what, maybe 10,000 gallons?) were dented but not destroyed by the explosion. Which happened on the other side of the plant, where the end product was stored. That's not difficult or even controversial if those videos and stills and reports are still available.

      If they're not, then double huh.

      •  Good points, but the tanks you see are for (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Quicklund, Joieau

        delivery, not the primary storage tank holding much, much more.

        •  Really? Where was it... (0+ / 0-)

          underground? Do you know how big?

          I've actually seen tanks the size of these after liquification of natural gas from wells blow up. They make a nice big fireball. There's failsafes in the wellhead line, liquid nitrogen tanks (to cool the gas as it's compressed to liquid) and pipeline that fail closed if there's a sudden pressure transient, so they don't tend to flatten houses and schools and such half a mile away.

          Shit happens. We all know this, and there but for the grace of god (or OSHA, or Mine Safety, or whatever) go we. First there is relief, then comes the sifting and judging. I'm honestly just wondering why they want to insist the AN wasn't the Big Firework. Because it seems chemically likely to me that it was, and I watched the before dark videos of the original fire. It was burning good and spreading (maybe even because of water from the firemen). It was not what flattened buildings half a mile away.

          Since when did knowing that ammonium nitrate fertilizer is violently explosive become a no-no? What's up with that?

  •  First reports said "ammonium nitrate" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Emergency responders on radio referred to a "bomb" blast. Some time in the wee hours of the morning, after state and federal help began arriving onscene, officials began referring to "anhydrous ammonia." It is not unusual for facts to change in the early stages of a disaster. But...

    An expert says anhydrous ammonia tanks have automatic pressure relief valves that prevent an explosion by bleeding off pressure as it develops. If anhydrous ammonia tanks were involved, and the relief valves were working, no explosion should have occurred.

    So, how did the fire start and what might have triggered the explosion?  Could a police traffic stop in Waco 5 days earlier provide a clue?

    In a truck stopped for a "routine traffic violation" next to a school bus depot, authorities discovered a crude bomb or IED. Fort Hood bomb disposal experts were called in to dispose of the bomb (which they decided wasn't actually dangerous in its condition at the time), and a man in the truck was arrested.

    Was this individual a "lone wolf," associated with a larger group, someone with a mental condition or ? Did the individual make the bomb himself or did he have help? Was the bomb not actively a threat because it was amateurish, or because it was being used for a dry run? Authorities have released no more information about the incident. That seems odd, given how the government has publicized past arrests of suspicious persons.

    Very likely, the explosion resulted from safety lapses or an unfortunate combination of circumstances. That has been the case in past explosions involving ammonium nitrate. And even if authorities are covering something up, it could be motivated by something other than terrorism. But, it's also possible that federal authorities are anxious to avoid having a second terrorism attack on Obama's watch.

    For now, one can only say that what happened is curious--and begs for an inquiry.  But, where is the inquiry?

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