WEST LAFAYETTE – As devastating pictures and stories pour in from the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, here in Indiana questions are being raised over similar fertilizer storage facilities statewide.
State fertilizer administrator Matt Pearson, with the Office of the Indiana State Chemist, oversees all fertilizer use in the state.
Pearson said there are more than 400 storage facilities across Indiana that contain anhydrous ammonia, the same fertilizer reportedly stored in Texas.
“We have rules that specify what type of tank it can be stored in, where it can be put, (and the) proper protection equipment,” Pearson said.
Anhydrous ammonia is in a gas form and is inserted by plows directly into the ground. The chemical reacts with water in the ground to spur growth.
That reaction means that exposure to people can be very dangerous.
“If you get it on your skin, it’s going to burn your skin, because it’s pulling all the water out of you,” Pearson said.
The fertilizer itself is not explosive, though. Pearson said that there are still many questions about what spurred the explosion in Texas, but he suspects other factors like the earlier fire and vessels containing the fertilizer likely contributed.
“It appears that this is just one of those really, really rare, perfect storm things,” Pearson said.
Still, Pearson said the state will pay close attention to the findings of an investigation into the cause of the Texas explosion and see if they could help protect Hoosiers, too. He reports no similar case of any kind in Indiana, despite the fertilizer being used since the 1950’s.
“I can’t think of one incident of … anything even close to this,” Pearson said.