The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Fertilizer Turns Explosive

Apr 29, 2013

Ammonium nitrate is a well-known raw material of nitrate-based explosives. It can violently decompose when heated at temperatures as low as 410 degrees Fahrenheit. If ammonium nitrate contains impurities, it can decompose at lower temperatures.

The West Fertilizer Company, which owned the plant, did not seem to acknowledge the facts and warnings about the dangers. The company stated in the emergency response plan filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2011 that there was NO risk of fire or explosion at the facility. Their worst case scenario was the possible release of a small amount of ammonia gas into the atmosphere.

The company stored around 270 tons of ammonium nitrate in the plant in 2012, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. This was a huge amount for an explosive chemical. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh used about two tons of ammonium nitrate to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

At the same time, ammonium nitrate is a very useful synthetic fertilizer. It can provide very high levels of nitrogen to soil and is also a rather inexpensive chemical. So, farmers use it very widely as a synthetic fertilizer all over the world. And we are all dependent on what farmers produce.

But when such a useful fertilizer is handled in a profit-maximizing system, the results can be – explosive.