Unreported fertilizer poses threat to East Texas town

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on July 2, 2013 at 10:39 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jul 2 at 11:50 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

EMORY –– The message last week out of a U.S. Senate committee hearing on the West explosion was clear: Ammonium nitrate fertilizer stored in wooden buildings is dangerous. 

But for the second time in two weeks, News 8 has discovered a wooden structure in the center of a small town posing a threat the size of West.  

The first was in Athens –– this is in Emory, Texas, a 1,200-population farming community 65 miles east of Dallas whose economy depends largely upon the Potts Feed and Fertilizer store in the center of it. 

And while the feed store is well marked, that tan building on the back end of the property is not, and what's inside may be a mystery to many. Even the Texas Department of State Health Services doesn't know. But they are supposed to. In the wide-open structure, News 8 found a bin labeled ‘ammonium nitrate.’ 

Anyone storing more than 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate must report to the state Health department. Rains County Emergency Management Coordinator Harold Carr has an office right across the street. 

"I'm not, I guess really well informed as to what happened in West or why it happened,” said Carr. “I don't even know if the state knows why it happened other than the fact they had a lot of fertilizer or fertilizer components." 

When asked about his awareness of ammonium nitrate being stored across the street, Carr was quickly dismissive of a major threat. 

“It's not, in my opinion, of great concern even though it's right in the middle of town,” said Carr. But according to one of the nations leading chemical safety experts, it should be a huge concern because, just like in West –– where an ammonium nitrate blast claimed 15 lives and injured 200 others –– and many other fertilizer storage buildings in Texas, the fertilizer building in Emory is made mostly of wood. 

The partition separating the ammonium nitrate from other fertilizer chemicals is highly-combustible wood. 

"Ammonium nitrate should be stored in non-combustible buildings meaning no wood around, no other combustible materials and that's the direction we would like to see this industry go," said Daniel Horowitz, Managing Director, U.S. Chemical Safety Board. 

The more questions Carr was asked, the less sure he was about exactly what is inside the fertilizer building. At one point, Carr asked News 8… “are you sure what’s in that bin is ammonium nitrate?”

There also did not appear to be a sprinkler system in the building and the town of Emory does not have a fire code requiring one. As for the business owners, they declined to comment on camera but did say they were unaware they were supposed to report their ammonium nitrate to the state. 

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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