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Huge Explosion at Texas Fertilizer Plant 422

Posted by Soulskill
from the find-safety dept.
A massive explosion took place around 8:50pm ET at a fertilizer plant in a small town in Texas. The cause of the explosion is not precisely known, but the plant was on fire beforehand. The casualty reports are tentative and expected to rise, but two people are dead and over 150 are injured. Firefighters responding to the initial fire are unaccounted for. Over a thousand residents have been evacuated from their homes. Officials are worried about the volatility of another tank at the plant, but also about the potential damage from exposure to anhydrous ammonia. The blast was heard in Dallas, 75 miles away. "There are lots of houses that are leveled within a two-block radius. A lot of other homes are damaged as well outside that radius." A brief YouTube video shows the explosion of the plant.
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Huge Explosion at Texas Fertilizer Plant

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  • How Tragic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:30AM (#43480281)
    Fertilizer plants are dangerous places. I am surprised that in such a sparsely populated part of Texas the plant wasn't further away from houses.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:36AM (#43480305)

    I noticed that every time there's an explosion somewhere, /. has to have an article about it but yet it has nothing to do with tech. Can someone care to elaborate on why that is? More importantly, why does it just take a few hours for /. to have these kinds of news posts but yet tech related articles could be weeks behind?

  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:46AM (#43480337) Homepage Journal

    Don't blow a fuse; the answer was just in the news! Flaaaming hypocriiiites... []

    (To the tune of "Reading Rainbow.")

  • Re:20 years passed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pseudonym (62607) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:51AM (#43480357)

    Every day on the calendar is an anniversary of something.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:53AM (#43480373)

    Don't blow a fuse; the answer was just in the news!

    True, but a serious disaster is an event of national interest. Even special interest websites like this one are, in addition to being news sources, are also community gathering locations. Which means, we gather here to talk about what's going on in the world. Is there profit to be made? Sure. But there's also a discussion to be had. And our view into this news event may differ from that of the popular media; For example, there are chemical engineers who read this site. They may have something to say about how this happened. Maybe the fire suppression system failed -- maybe it was even due to a computer glitch. Whether it did or didn't, I can't really say. But the point is, we have a different perspective.

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @03:57AM (#43480395) Homepage Journal

    I think its a bit like Bhopal, where an economy grew up around the plant.

  • Is this nerd news? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bearhouse (1034238) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @04:07AM (#43480427)

    Interesting that just the other day we were discussing here about "exploitation" of social media sites etc. to drive traffic to "tech" sites after the Boston bombs.
    Here we have links to BBC, CNN & even Youtube?
    I assume like many /;ers I already get my "mainstream" news from the BBC etc. Do we need this?

  • Re:20 years passed (Score:2, Insightful)

    by darkob (634931) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @04:15AM (#43480469)
    First, my deepest condolences to all families and friends of dead and injured in this explosion. Apparently, some facts need further clarification. April 19th is a critical date in US history, since, whereas siege at Waco, TX ended on that date probably by coincidence (ATF went in on that particular day after 50 days of siege, negotiating and waiting), it was Tim McVeigh who "comemoraded" that day (and the deadly siege) two years later by bombing federal building in Oklahoma City. To do that he used masive amounts of fertilizer as an explosive. Fertilizer itself is inert, but under certain conditions it may explode. In any case after that bombing sale of fertilizer is severly restricded and I suppose non-farmers are not even capable of obtaining big amount of it. So, if somone wants to make a huge explosion by fertilizer the only other option (apart from stealing it) is to set it on fire wherever it may be. Either some stock on some farm, or directly in some fertilizer factory. I surely hope that this explosion is caused by an accident. However it's up to authorities to determine how did this happend, and possibly why the affected area had not been evacuated after initial fire broke out.
  • Aint it weird... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @04:17AM (#43480483)

    Bomb in boston.. Kills a couple ppl. Injures a bunch.
    Country loses its fucking mind and we'll get some new 'security' laws in place etc...

    Industrial explosion kills 100+ from the last i was reading.
    And not one single thing will change. At all. No more industrial controls than we have now. The last time this company got fined for safety violations they paid $3,000. Nothing really.

    I don't get it... If we really have a problem with the whole 'people dying' thing.. Why don't we spend some money on the things that kill the most people..

    But no... We go all nuts over some gun deaths or a bombing.. Ignore the stuff mostly that kills way more.
    When on the larger scale of things... At it's worst only 20,000 a year died from guns back in the 90's... It's gone WAY down since then.

    And yet every year... ~40,000 people will die from aspirin overdose...

    40k is alot more than 20k... Have we ever seen one bit of info or warnings about aspirin? Nope.

    Drunk drivers kill ~10,000 people a year...
    Hell, ~30,000 people a year die on the roads... Have we worked very hard to fix that yet?

    I just don't get it... Our sense of scale is completely fucked up.

    We spend TRILLIONS and take away peoples rights because 'terrorisim'. And yet in a single year more people die from aspirin than have EVER died from terrorisim in the usa....

    It makes no sense.

  • Re:20 years passed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isorox (205688) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:01AM (#43480641) Homepage Journal

    Which has what to do with a chemical plant 40 miles away...? Exactly...?

    The fertilizer plant and the OP are both full of shit?

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Vintermann (400722) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:02AM (#43480649) Homepage

    I hear Texas isn't so cool with strict zoning laws.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:13AM (#43480685)

    Quite often when you see something, even something not particularly dangerous but more annoying like an airport, that is in a populated area and say "Why the hell didn't they build it out in the middle of nowhere?" the answer is often that they did. When they built it, there was nothing around, but things grew up around it, or grew nearer and nearer to it.

    You watch an area over a couple decades and it can go from "a whole lot of nothing" to "very developed".

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cbhacking (979169) <been_out_cruising-slashdot&yahoo,com> on Thursday April 18, 2013 @05:36AM (#43480767) Homepage Journal

    Contrary to what Hollywood may have led you to believe, things on fire do not normally explode. They normally just produce a lot of smoke and burn down. Seriously, go watch the video... it's a big fire, but it's just burning steadily and in a not-even-remotely explosive way... until from one frame to the next it flashes so bright it washes out nearly the entire light sensor of the camera.

    Yes, obviously the fire is related to the explosion, thank you Captain Obvious. The question is, what about the situation even had the potential for such an incredible explosion? Because that shit is not normal for a fire. What part of "not precisely known" are you having trouble understanding? Also, as Phase Shifter pointed out, knowing exactly what blew up and possibly also knowing why is important for proper response to the incident.

  • Re:Coincidence? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex&project-retrograde,com> on Thursday April 18, 2013 @06:08AM (#43480851) Homepage

    [Coincidence] or is it related to the Boston bomb attack..?

    Yes. Timing was Coincidental and it was related to the Boston bomb attack: While the terrorist attack in Boston will likely result in less rights for civilians, the West, TX explosion won't cause corporations to be beholden to even basic zoning restrictions; The Boston explosions were committed by a small group of terrorists with the intent to kill, and strike fear into hearts of citizens, but the West explosion were caused by a large corporation on accident, and we should be terrified of their general recklessness, but we aren't. The Boston attack, like most terrorist threats, would have been exceedingly hard to prevent (esp. without stripping away the rights of all citizens), yet most all of the West, TX explosion injuries and casualties could have been easily avoidable by requiring such plants spend the money to relocate further from the towns they cause to spring up as they get filthy fucking rich. The perpetrator(s) of the Boston explosions may be found and put to justice for their crimes, but the rich bastards who are responsible for the West, TX explosion will get a sympathetic pat on the back, and at least a tax break in losses from Uncle Sam. The terrorists wounded many in their Boston attack, but the West, TX explosion was far more lethal and devastating. People will get right fucking pissed off about the terrorist attack in Boston, but they'll exhibit a disproportionate response of only remorse for the victims of the TX explosion.

    So, you see, they are inversely related.

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @06:12AM (#43480871) Homepage

    The question is, what about the situation even had the potential for such an incredible explosion?

    That'd be the fact that the massive fire was in a factory where they make explosive stuff.

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ash Vince (602485) * on Thursday April 18, 2013 @07:52AM (#43481231) Journal

    Still, if they have the letters "fluor" in them they must be the same thing, right. Them thar chemmerculs.

    I could tell from the url that it's a nutter site.

    It's not really a nutter site. They are just against the idea of adding small amounts of fluoride to drinking water just because people can't be arsed to brush their teeth. I kind of have a bit of sympathy for this to be honest even though I personally use fluoride toothpaste (some people don't even do that). I have this strange belief that if I want to let my teeth all go to shit that is my prerogative and the local company who supply me tap water have no business trying to prevent me from doing so.

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop (214511) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @08:02AM (#43481283) Journal

    No, it will be ignored. I once reviewed a school in West Virginia and when I was done, I told the owner that his floors were only rated for about 1/2-2/3 of what they should be for a school building. He'd built the thing himself (it was constructed much like a pole barn) and hosted underprivileged city kids for year round programs, teaching them about the outdoors. His response: "We don't have codes in WV, I just need to know that it's safe."

    I told him they had basically the same code as everywhere in the US (the International Building Code), but his county simply chose not to spend any money on enforcement. I also mentioned that if anything happened to the building, he would be held personally liable - as the builder - for violating the state building code. I wished him luck and went on my way. I no longer practice engineering in WV - it's just not worth it, as it's several hundred dollars a year to keep my license up.

    Building codes don't address explosions like this. Even OSHA doesn't really have much way to require safety measures that would save people if an explosion occurred. BATFE isn't involved in fertilizer (afaik), though even in a manufacturing facility BATFE regs won't save people in the process area. These people will have died and their legacy will be nothing.

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 18, 2013 @08:06AM (#43481291)

    You have that prerogative, you just can't drink the tap water. Public health is the rule not the exception, that's why you can't complain that your food doesn't have enough lead in it, you have to add it yourself.

  • by SunTzuWarmaster (930093) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @08:10AM (#43481315) Homepage

    I am more interested in what Slashdotters have to say on the subject than anyone else. Typically a story like this plays out as follows:
    NPR/BBC - here are the unbiased details of the story
    BS news - OMG Explosion! Think of the children/town/nation! The government should do something/nothing!
    Slashdot - here are similar stories (ammonia nitrate-related disasters), chemical discussion, physics of the matter.

  • Re:20 years passed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:30AM (#43481831) Homepage Journal

    You make it sound like any fertilizer will work in any situation as a "one size fits all" position. That isn't how you grow plants, which needs a much more balanced approach and several different kinds of chemicals.

    You're right and you're wrong. In theory, you're right. You look at what the plant needs and you give it that. But in proper practice, you're wrong. You simply return the shit to the soil and the system works cyclically, if you plant guilds. It's monocultural so-called "green revolution" farming (which turns nations and indeed whole continents brown) which causes soil depletion. Most of these crops aren't even rotated any more!

    In fact, in earlier times people would literally sell their cess pool contents (not really septic tanks, but the same general construction) to Nitrate manufacturers for the purpose of extracting the Nitrogen compounds to be used in explosives. Cheaper ways of getting that accomplished can be had today, but in theory you could use the stuff that is flowing out of your toilet if you cared.

    We could be using AIWPS [] to convert our waste into fertilizer, algae as a fuel feedstock, and methane gas, while cutting our water use. Or we could use composting toilets [] to turn crap into soil directly without any special facilities. By adding compost to your crap and letting it sit for a year (with occasional aeration) you turn it into soil that you can lift out of the digester by hand if you choose, it's that well-cooked.

    The simple fact is that we only need to produce industrial fertilizers with an explosion risk because we are engaging in inherently destructive farming practices instead of employing a cyclical system which existed before we did.

  • Re:How Tragic (Score:4, Insightful)

    by operagost (62405) on Thursday April 18, 2013 @09:56AM (#43482119) Homepage Journal
    Protesting the addition of toxins to drinking water is not the same as WANTING toxins added to one's drinking water. The overseers added fluoride to the water, and you act like the guy who wants his water as free of contaminants as possible is the crazy one. You ignored the main argument and substituted a straw man to make yours sound reasonable.

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