Fertilizer accident scenario explored
by By GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Jun 03, 2013 | 1520 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
How would emergency managers handle a situation like the massive fertilizer plant explosion in Texas in mid-April?

What is the chemical load and what types of chemicals are used or stored or even manufactured daily in Bradley County, the city of Cleveland and Charleston?

The answers could be surprising.

According to filings in Tier II reporting to E-plan, a database developed and maintained by the University of Texas, Bradley County has over 1 billion pounds of chemicals used, stored or manufactured.

The area has everything from lead acid batteries, fuels, other acids, fertilizer compositions, and many others.

The Local Emergency Planning Committee, an entity under the Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency, is made up of emergency responders from all public safety agencies locally, as well as safety managers and others from various industrial facilities in the area.

A recent fertilizer plant explosion which killed 14 and injured 200 virtually leveled the small town of West, Texas.

Area reports indicated ammonium nitrate was the component.

Clayton Beaty of Beaty Fertilizer said the fertilizer is not explosive on its own.

“Ammonium nitrate has to have an ignition source as a catalyst to become explosive,” Beaty said.

He explained this to ease the fears of those who may think the product is explosive on its own.

According to Beaty, whose company handles organic and other fertilizers and compositions, regulatory restrictions are strict regarding fertilizer storage and tonnage.

“We haven’t handled ammonium nitrate in bulk form in over 20 years,” he said.

Farmers and landscapers are typical customers for Beaty Fertilizer products.

Organic mixtures for roses and other plants are custom designed for maximum results to the customer, according to Beaty.

Investigation continues into the cause of the fire that led to the devastation that followed at the Texas facility.

“We preplan for all potential or possible incidents,” said Troy Spence, interim Bradley County Fire-Rescue chief, who is also Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency director.

“Manufacturing and industrial plants create their plans, and all mangers review it. Drills such as Olin’s and Lonza’s CAER (Community Awareness Emergency Response) drills and others are performed annually,” Spence explained.

Working with CBCEMA and other responders, plant managers have put their plans into action through the drills, whether table-top or on-the-ground simulations.

Spence explained after drills are finished, assessments are made and then information is provided on how to “do things better.”

“We share ‘best-practices’ within the industries in Bradley and surrounding counties,” Spence said.

The Local Emergency Planning Committee as well as fire inspectors and emergency management personnel perform plant tours with emergency responders, learning what possible dangers are and how to deal with them in the event of an incident.

Chief Steve Haun of the Cleveland Fire Department said Regional Haz-Mat Teams are in placed and the uniform Incident Command system would be utilized.

“Preplans are available to firefighters and responders 24-hours a day,” Spence said.

Plans are being converted to databases as well as footprints of buildings and storage areas. Hard copies are placed in an accessible box on-site of plants. Responders can access plans and other information that way as well.

“Emergency managers used the ‘All-Hazards Emergency Plan’ to respond by,” Spence said.

As events might escalate, additional aid may be needed, therefore, mutual-aid agreements are in place as well as Tennessee Homeland Security measures.

“Locally, emergency responders perform a large-scale drill semiannually with Sequoyah Nuclear Plant and TVA. This drill is evaluated by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials,” Spence said.

Annual reviews of emergency plans are also studied.

“Under the structure of Incident Command, we would work with a company liaison, monitor the situation and progress of an incident, and grow the mutual-aid response for help if needed,” Haun added.

“During the last review, major changes were made,” Spence said.

In regard to chemical storage, Spence said, “Every business and most manufacturing industry has chemicals used in processes. Some have large, secure storage areas with product that could affect our community. That is why most industrial parks are situated away from residential populated areas,” Spence explained.

“This presents less risk to the residents of our community.”

Zoning laws and regulations are ways to make our communities safer when an industry wants to locate, according to Spence.