Could Texas fertilizer explosion happen in Arkansas? - KATV - Breaking News, Weather and Razorback Sports

Could Texas fertilizer explosion happen in Arkansas?

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Jeff Welch, Katherina Yancy Jeff Welch, Katherina Yancy

(KATV) The monstrous explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small farming town in West, Texas has claimed lives, people are still missing and more than 160 victims are being treated.

The volatile fertilizer was stored at the plant, and investigators are looking into what set off the blast.

It has some Arkansans questioning how possible the scenario is here.

The West Fertilizer Company reportedly had as much as 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia on hand, it's a nitrogen fertilizer. It is mostly used in corn farming and has to be kept in pressurized vessels. Most Arkansas farmers don't use it; therefore, we don't have a need for a large storage or retail.

There is a crater where the fertilizer company once stood, homes and businesses in a four block radius were leveled. The explosion registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake.

"We can't imagine it, we really can't." Jeff Welch is the staff chair with the Lonoke County Extension for the U of A Division of Agriculture.

Welch explains, "Years ago we phased that out, we don't use that anymore."

He says it's a cheaper product than Arkansas corn and cotton growers use, but you have to invest in expensive farm equipment. "So when it's all said and done, it's cheaper, but it can be more expensive for our producers."

When asked if how dangerous the common fertilizer's are, that are used in Arkansas, "No, not dangerous at all. So, any chemical can be dangerous but usually urea ammonium sulfate, dap - diammonium phosphate are not dangerous materials to handle."

Welch says explosions are rare. There have been less than 10 reported incidents in the U.S. in the past 90-years.

At this time, there's no indication the explosion in Texas is anything more than an industrial accident.

Welch says anhydrous ammonia has been phased out for about two decades, plus there are arguably better options for farmers. However, they can still get a hold of it. The Arkansas Department of Labor inspects the vessels used to pressurize the fertilizer. A spokesperson tells Channel Seven that the vessels are not used like they used to be.

Also, anhydrous ammonia is known to be a target of theft because it can be used to make meth so that has also deterred farmers from using the product.

In recent years, the Department of Homeland Security started limiting the sale and a similar compound has been used in attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing.