Nov 5, 2013 1:19 AM by Jim Hummel, TIna Macias
Back in April, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas shocked the nation, in part because the violent explosion was caught on video. 15 people were killed, more than 160 were injured, and an entire town was leveled. While the cause of the initial fire is still under investigation, there's no doubt what exploded that day. It was a fertilizer called ammonium nitrate.
Ammonium nitrate is stable in some forms but if it comes into contact with an open flame or other ignition source it can have catastrophic consequences, as seen in West, Texas.
"Once it gets going, it's gonna go, you're not going to stop it, " said Dr. Eric Taylor, a biochemistry professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, who specializes in industrial and military-related safety issues. "If it's in dry powder form, that's when it is potentially dangerous because it can be ignited somehow and it tends to decompose violently- it's very unforgiving in that respect."
History can verify just how unforgiving ammonium nitrate can be when mishandled. In 1947, an explosion on a ship carrying ammonium nitrate killed more than 580 people at the port of Texas City, Texas. It was also the weapon of choice in the Oklahoma City bombings.
The EPA's Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act requires facilities to report hazardous materials to their local and state governments. Documents filed with Louisiana State Police in compliance with this law shows there are more than 52-million pounds of ammonium nitrate stored at seven facilities in Acadiana- three in Acadia, three in Iberia and one in St. Landry.
The law also requires Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) to hold formal meetings, develop an emergency response plan and review it at least annually.
We investigated all three parishes in Acadiana, which store ammonium nitrate. St. Landry and Acadia parishes are each compliant, updating their plans and holding LEPC meetings. But as for Iberia Parish:
"One of the things I learned was that our Local Emergency Planning Committee was not satisfying all of the EPA's requirements," said Prescott Marshall, the Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Iberia Parish.
Tuesday night on KATC a closer look at the compliance issue in Iberia Parish, and what's being done to correct the problem.