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Why was the Texas fertiliser plant explosion so deadly?
The Conversation ^ | 4-19-2013 | David Cliff

Posted on 04/20/2013 6:59:56 AM PDT by Sir Napsalot

(snip) What makes ammonium nitrate explosive?

Ammonium nitrate, a common fertiliser additive, is a white crystalline solid at room temperature.

It is stable except when it is contaminated with organic (carbon-based) material.

In practice, it is commonly mixed with fuel oil to form an industrial explosive (called ammonium nitrate/fuel oil, or ANFO) and is widely used in the mining industry.

In the case of the explosion in West, something had to heat the ammonium nitrate in the fertiliser factory to a critical temperature of 300C for it to auto-ignite.

This would need to be either organic contaminants reacting with the ammonium nitrate or a completely separate fire that spread to the ammonium nitrate storage area.

Video evidence confirms a major high temperature fire was burning for some time before the detonation occurred.

At high temperatures, ammonium and nitrogen dioxide are formed when ammonium nitrate breaks down, and can react together to produce massive amounts of heat.

If the heat isn’t dissipated and the reaction rate is allowed to escalate, the reaction will eventually cause detonation.

In West, it would appear all the damage done was caused by the pressure wave generated by the blast rather than toxic gases, though this has not yet been confirmed.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Science
KEYWORDS: ammoniumnitrate; texas
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To: tired&retired; Sir Napsalot
Per the article: There have been a number of similar episodes such as the Texas City Disaster in 1947, where more than 570 people died after a cargo ship laden with ammonium nitrate exploded.

My father heard and felt that explosion in his high school in Houston.

41 posted on 04/20/2013 9:16:02 AM PDT by Paleo Conservative (Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not really out to get you.)
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To: napscoordinator
Mayor Tom Menino is a ultra liberal. Normally you can not understand him when he speaks. He is known for his speech faux pas’. He makes Joe Biden look like Einstein when he speaks. He is also the moron who banned Chik Fil a from opening a store in Boston
42 posted on 04/20/2013 9:52:08 AM PDT by pietraynor (Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them. Ronald Reagan)
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To: Sir Napsalot
Must be something "in the water" regarding big explosions and French ships ...
The Halifax Explosion occurred on the morning of Thursday, December 6, 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship fully laden with wartime explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo[2] in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. Approximately twenty minutes later, a fire on board the French ship ignited her volatile cargo, causing a cataclysmic explosion that devastated the Richmond District of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by debris, fires, and collapsed buildings, and it is estimated that nearly 9,000 others were injured.[3] The blast was the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons[4] with an equivalent force of roughly 2.9 kilotons of Trinitrotoluene (TNT).

My paternal great-grandfather was a fire chief in Calais, ME. He answered the call for disaster relief and went to Halifax.

43 posted on 04/20/2013 10:06:41 AM PDT by MacNaughton
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To: MD Expat in PA
when the plant was fully engulfed in flames by the time the local fire department got there, why they decided to battle the fire rather than focusing all their efforts on evacuating the area?

It's not the job of the fire department to evacuate folks. THAT'S the job of the police or emergency folks in the area. why THEY didn't do it is unclear; maybe they didn't realize the possibility of such an enormous explosion.

Maybe that father who was filming thought he was at a 'safe distance', not understanding the nature of what exactly was on fire. Stupid, in retrospect, but as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

44 posted on 04/20/2013 10:44:17 AM PDT by SuziQ
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To: napscoordinator
At least Boston came out looking great as a city. The Mayor should run for Governor. I don’t know his politics but he was incredible during this. Almost as good as Rudy during 9/11!

Oh, good grief, NO!! Mumbles Menino has been awful as Mayor. I shudder to think of him as Governor!

I don't think he had much control over much of what happened with the takedown of the two terrorist wanna-be brothers. That was done by the Boston PD, and the police departments of neighboring towns, and the FBI, over which Menino had no control.

45 posted on 04/20/2013 10:52:33 AM PDT by SuziQ
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To: cripplecreek

OK. I never knew about that one.

I thought you were referring to this last one and I didn’t recall hearing numbers like that.

46 posted on 04/20/2013 10:53:55 AM PDT by metmom (For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore & do not submit again to a yoke of slavery)
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To: Sir Napsalot

From the “Emergency Response Guide” (this little D.O.T orange book is on nearly every piece of fire and EMS apparatus in the country:



- These substances will accelerate burning when involved in a fire.
- Some may decompose explosively when heated or involved in a fire.
- May explode from heat or contamination.
- Some will react explosively with hydrocarbons (fuels).
- May ignite combustibles (wood, paper, oil, clothing, etc.).
- Containers may explode when heated.
- Runoff may create fire or explosion hazard.

- Inhalation, ingestion or contact (skin, eyes) with vapors or substance may cause severe injury, burns or death.
- Fire may produce irritating, corrosive and/or toxic gases.
- Runoff from fire control or dilution water may cause pollution.


CALL Emergency Response Telephone Number on Shipping Paper first. If Shipping Paper not available or no answer, refer to appropriate telephone number listed on the inside back cover.
- As an immediate precautionary measure, isolate spill or leak area in all directions for at least 50 meters (150 feet) for liquids and at least 25 meters (75 feet) for solids.
- Keep unauthorized personnel away.
- Stay upwind.
- Keep out of low areas.
- Ventilate closed spaces before entering.

- Wear positive pressure self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).
- Wear chemical protective clothing that is specifically recommended by the manufacturer. It may provide little or no thermal protection.
- Structural firefighters’ protective clothing will only provide limited protection.


Large Spill
- Consider initial downwind evacuation for at least 100 meters (330 feet).

- If tank, rail car or tank truck is involved in a fire, ISOLATE for 800 meters (1/2 mile) in all directions; also, consider initial evacuation for 800 meters (1/2 mile) in all directions.



Small Fire
- Use water.  Do not use dry chemicals or foams.  CO2 or Halon? may provide limited control.

Large Fire
- Flood fire area with water from a distance.

- Do not move cargo or vehicle if cargo has been exposed to heat.
- Move containers from fire area if you can do it without risk.

Fire involving Tanks or Car/Trailer Loads
- Fight fire from maximum distance or use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles.
- Cool containers with flooding quantities of water until well after fire is out.
- ALWAYS stay away from tanks engulfed in fire.
- For massive fire, use unmanned hose holders or monitor nozzles; if this is impossible, withdraw from area and let fire burn.

- Keep combustibles (wood, paper, oil, etc.) away from spilled material.
- Do not touch damaged containers or spilled material unless wearing appropriate protective clothing.
- Stop leak if you can do it without risk.
- Do not get water inside containers.

Small Dry Spill
- With clean shovel place material into clean, dry container and cover loosely; move containers from spill area.

Small Liquid Spill
- Use a non-combustible material like vermiculite or sand to soak up the product and place into a container for later disposal.

Large Spill
- Dike far ahead of liquid spill for later disposal.

- Following product recovery, flush area with water.

- Move victim to fresh air.
- Call 911 or emergency medical service.
- Give artificial respiration if victim is not breathing.
- Administer oxygen if breathing is difficult.
- Remove and isolate contaminated clothing and shoes.
- Contaminated clothing may be a fire risk when dry.
- In case of contact with substance, immediately flush skin or eyes with running water for at least 20 minutes.
- Keep victim warm and quiet.
- Ensure that medical personnel are aware of the material(s) involved and take precautions to protect

47 posted on 04/20/2013 10:55:54 AM PDT by Species8472 (Stupid is supposed to hurt)
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To: MD Expat in PA

I’m by no means an expert in such matters, but I have to wonder why, when the plant was fully engulfed in flames by the time the local fire department got there, why they decided to battle the fire rather than focusing all their efforts on evacuating the area?


Good question but timelines indicate that things happened rapidly so who knows what actually happened at what time.

For what it’s worth:

Fire at 7:30 pm
Explosion at 7:53 pm

Volunteer firemen from the West Fire Department initially responded to a fire at 7:30 p.m. at West Fertilizer Company. Six volunteer firemen responded to the fire, recognized the potential for an explosion and began evacuating nearby homes and businesses, Waco police Sgt. William Patrick Swanton said.

At about 7:53 p.m., the explosion ripped through the plant.

Time line of events:

48 posted on 04/20/2013 10:58:47 AM PDT by deport
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To: mountainlion
I wondered aobut it also.

This story needs more coverage.

49 posted on 04/20/2013 11:06:57 AM PDT by apocalypto
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To: combat_boots

I hope some reporter will ask him about it.

50 posted on 04/20/2013 11:09:14 AM PDT by apocalypto
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To: pietraynor

Did e win? Is Chick-Fil-A still banned from opening a store in Boston?

51 posted on 04/20/2013 11:12:23 AM PDT by apocalypto
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To: MD Expat in PA

I think people were falsely assured that such an explosion could never occur at the plant. Look at where the plant is located, near where people work, live and go to school.

52 posted on 04/20/2013 11:24:42 AM PDT by Moonman62 (The US has become a government with a country, rather than a country with a government.)
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To: metmom
He's referring to the Texas City disaster of 1947, which was caused by a boatload of ammonium nitrate going up during a fire. According to the Wikipedia, it killed "at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department."
53 posted on 04/20/2013 11:39:53 AM PDT by cynwoody
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Back in the day when Oppau went pow!

54 posted on 04/20/2013 12:11:21 PM PDT by Wally_Kalbacken
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To: Wally_Kalbacken
Back in the day when Oppau went pow!

Wasn't there a song about that by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs?

Oppau-pau, Boom, oh Wow. When the pile went Pow!

55 posted on 04/20/2013 12:22:07 PM PDT by USMCPOP (Father of LCpl. Karl Linn, KIA 1/26/2005 Al Haqlaniyah, Iraq)
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To: metmom; cripplecreek

“I read it was about 35 dead. Where did you get that number?”

The Texas City disaster of April 16, 1947 is the deadliest industrial accident in U.S. history, and one of the largest non-nuclear explosions. Originating with a mid-morning fire on board the French-registered vessel SS Grandcamp (docked in the Port of Texas City), its cargo of approximately 2,300 tons (2,086,100 kg) of ammonium nitrate detonated,[1] with the initial blast and subsequent chain-reaction of further fires and explosions in other ships and nearby oil-storage facilities killing at least 581 people, including all but one member of the Texas City fire department.

56 posted on 04/20/2013 12:43:35 PM PDT by GGpaX4DumpedTea (I am a Tea Party descendant...steeped in the Constitutional Republic given to us by the Founders.)
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar

We used an igniter at the bottom of the hole. The igniter was about the size of a hockey puck with a blasting cap wired into it.
Drop a rock in the hole to check for water. If none, then fill with ANFO to about 2 feet from the top. Fill remaining column with drill cuttings.
Wire everything to the blasting machine, blow the horn, then duck !

57 posted on 04/20/2013 12:55:39 PM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks (NRA Life Member)
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To: tired&retired
...where more than 570 people died after a cargo ship laden with ammonium nitrate exploded.

There were actually two cargo ships carrying ammonium nitrate. On April 16, 1947, A French vessel the SS Grandcamp loaded with 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate to be turned into fertilizer. Docked at the Port of Texas City it erupted in flames, causing a massive explosion that killed approximately 576 people and flattened 1,000 buildings in the city. All of the city's firefighting equipment was destroyed in the blast and 26 firemen were killed. A second ship at the port, also carrying ammonium nitrate, caught fire in the blast and exploded 16 hours later. With the destruction of the city's fire-fighting equipment in the first blast, Texas City was helpless to contain the damage of the second blast.

It was the worst industrial accident in U.S. history.

On 21 September 1921 an explosion in a nitrogenous fertilizer plant near Oppau Germany involving some 4,500 tonnes of ammonium sulphonitrate fertilizer detonated creating a 90meter X 125meter crater, over 20meters deep. The official casualty report listed 561 deaths, 1,952 injured and 7,500 people left homeless. The explosion was heard in Munich, 275km from the plant. This was probably the largest non-nuclear explosion in history (excluding mother natures temper tantrums of course).


58 posted on 04/20/2013 2:39:01 PM PDT by Gandalf_The_Gray (I live in my own little world, I like it 'cuz they know me here.)
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To: TribalPrincess2U
said, "Another question. Shouldn’t all firefighters KNOW how to put out this type of fire?"

Especially when there is a huge fertilizer plant in the coverage area of that fire department.

I would bet the operators of the fertilizer plant were arguing with the fire department to turn off their hoses.
That is why they didn't leave. Why else would they be there?

59 posted on 04/20/2013 6:22:56 PM PDT by Steve Van Doorn (*in my best Eric Cartman voice* 'I love you, guys')
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To: Sir Napsalot
..prayers for all the families who lost loved ones and suffered injury in our country this week,


it has been strange to see that very little discussion has occurred about a horrible blast that killed at least 35 with over 200 injured being placed on the back burner to the Boston bombing.

Ceremonies, athletes giving profane tributes, and lots of celebration, as if all terrorism has ended--I suppose we must wait to grieve for West, Texas until Boston deals with their feelings...

60 posted on 04/21/2013 7:51:34 AM PDT by WalterSkinner ( In Memory of My Father--WWII Vet and Patriot 1926-2007)
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