Texas Explosion Shows Dangers Of Fertilizer Plants - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Texas Explosion Shows Dangers Of Fertilizer Plants

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KHQ.COM - Rescuers in the town of West, near Waco, Texas continue to comb ruins left from a massive fertilizer explosion Wednesday. 

The blast leveled homes and businesses and shook the ground with the strength of a small earthquake. As many as 15 people could be dead and more than 160 are injured.  

Explosions at fertilizer plants are not common. However, the mix of gases and chemicals created during production are potentially dangerous.  

There is a facility in Post Falls, Idaho and another in Kennewick that is similar to the fertilizer plant in West, Texas. As for Spokane, there are fertilizer storage facilities in the area that also house ammonium. However, experts say the odds of an explosion like the one in Texas happening here is extremely low.  

"It is so rare, I do not think anyone has a good guess," said Jim Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the Far West Agribusiness Association. "I think it is going to be difficult just looking at the pictures of the explosion to figure out what's happening." 

The cause of the explosion at the plant in West, Texas has yet to be determined. So for now, no changes will be made at similar plants here in Washington.  

"In this particular isolated case we don't know what caused it," Fitzgerald said. "We don't know if there is a risk."

Although the explosion at a fertilizer plant is rare, the Spokane HAZMAT Team is prepared to handle it if it were to happen.  

"They have special training, special equipment and just an incredible amount of capability to be able to take care of those problems," said Spokane Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Brian Schaeffer.   

Fire Station One in downtown Spokane has two HAZMAT trucks, along with crews on call that are trained to detect any kind of chemical.  

"We also have weapons grade instrumentation, so if there is a chemical used in a weapon of mass destruction, we have equipment that will identify and register that," Schaeffer said. 

There is even a database that keeps track of what businesses store high-risk chemicals.  

Recent events like the explosion in Texas and even the bombings at the Boston Marathon, help crews better prepare for worst-case scenarios in Spokane.   

"We are very dialed in when it comes to what happens nationwide, domestic or international terrorism," Schaeffer said.

Right now, the HAZMAT team has equipment on loan that could be used at Bloomsday this year. The equipment has several monitoring devices that can detect explosive material in a two-mile radius. Therefore, if someone were to walk by with an explosive of any kind, the monitor would send a signal to a laptop hooked up at the command center. That way, police could then go locate the explosive. 

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