Fertilizer Company Manager Says Texas Disaster Wouldn’t Happen Here

A disaster such as the explosion that occurred at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, is unlikely to happen here in Chautauqua County.

Dwayne Gier, operations manager at NYP Management Co. Inc., explained how the disaster in Texas played out.

“From what I understood, the facility was a large fertilizer dealership,” said Gier. “They were unloading railroad cars of anhydrous ammonia, which is a liquid under pressure, similar to propane. It’s an excellent nitrogen source, and out west, where the ground is sandy, they can inject it into the soil and provide valuable nitrogen to their crops.”

Anhydrous ammonia is deposited into the ground with an injector. When anhydrous ammonia is injected into the ground under pressure, it provides valuable nitrogen to crops such as corn, which would otherwise be difficult to grow in some rather infertile parts of Texas.

“There are numerous precautions for the anhydrous ammonia,” said Gier. “It must be attended at all times; it cannot be left unattended. The wheels need to be chalked and it must be posted that anhydrous ammonia is being used in the area. Because it’s a pressurized, inflammable liquid, it’s not something that is used recklessly.”

According to Gier, the closest place to Chautauqua County that distributes anhydrous ammonia as a fertilizer is in Avon, N.Y.

“I think up there they do utilize it a bit,” said Gier. “But there’s no anhydrous being produced in Chautauqua or Cattaraugus counties. … I don’t even think there’s anyone in the area using it. Back in the 1970s I had considered looking into it once, but it takes some very specific machines and tools to infuse the ground with it, and those machines are very expensive. We were at the time a franchised dealer with Agway, and Agway told me it was just far too dangerous to bother with.”

Though Gier can only speculate as to what went wrong in West, he believes that one of the devices which contained the ammonia under pressure simply ruptured and caused a chain reaction.

“If I had to guess, I’d say one of the hoses which was holding the anhydrous ammonia ruptured. I’d guess the flames probably got back to the railroad cars, and I think it was the railroad cars that caused the large explosion. The fire was in the plant, but it seems like it was the cars that caused the explosion.”

Gier reassured that, of all the agricultural techniques used in Chautauqua County, none are as dangerous as the anhydrous ammonia which was used in West. And although the tragedy caused the deaths of 35 people and counting, nothing has been reported so far that would indicate the explosion was anything other than an unfortunate accident.

“I believe what they’re going to find out in the end is that it was an industrial accident,” said Gier. “Even though it’s a tragic affair, it will probably not generate any additional regulations (on fertilizers). There are already very strict regulations in place for the handling of anhydrous ammonia.”