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A factory explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, April 17 killed at least 12 and injured more than 200 people, according to CNN. There were also 50 homes destroyed as a result of the explosion.
The blast was large enough to register as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake by the U.S. Geological Survey's website. When the fertilizer plant exploded, approximately half of the town was evacuated as well as a nursing home with 133 residents.
Five firefighters from the West Fire Department, one firefighter from Dallas and four emergency responders were killed as a result of the plant explosion, CNN reported. The tally of casualties may rise as rescue crews work to search remaining buildings and areas surrounding the plant's location. Three fire trucks and one emergency medical service vehicle were also destroyed.
Many residents in the small town of about 2,800 people were devastated by the explosion that covered a five-block area.
The report stated the area around the scene of the accident remained "very volatile" days after the blast because of a reported presence of ammonium nitrate – a fertilizer composed of the potentially toxic gases ammonia and nitrogen and also used in mining.
The company running the fertilizer plant was previously cited and fined $2,300 by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 and was told to correct a failure to file a risk management program plan on time, the source stated.
In 2008, the company also had a complaint filed against it due to a lingering smell of ammonia in the area.
Dangers of explosive gases
Although ammonium nitrate is primarily used as a fertilizer, it can also be used as a blasting agent when combined with other additives, said the EPA. The chemical is a strong oxidizer and relatively stable explosive as long as it is handled properly.
Explosions due to ammonium nitrate are rare, but when they do occur, they are deadly and have a high impact.
Factories using ammonium nitrate should avoid heating the gas in a confined space as well as avoid contamination of ammonium nitrate with other combustible materials, according to the EPA.
When several toxic and reactive gases are present in a factory, a combustible gas leak detector can protect employees from remaining in hazardous or dangerous areas and prevent worker injury.
Industrial Safety News brought to you by Safety Systems Technology, Inc., leaders in fire and gas detection systems.