GREENLEAF, Idaho -- Texas Gov. Ricky Perry is calling the explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas a nightmare scenario.
The plant caught fire and suddenly exploded, leveling nearby blocks and killing 10 to 15 people. That number could rise. More than 160 people were injured.
The news of this terribly tragedy got many people in Idaho wondering if that could happen here. But, there's a big difference between that plant and the ones in Idaho. It is the chemicals they use. The facility in Texas was storing fertilizer composed of the potentially explosive ammonium nitrate.
Which is a product that we do not handle in this valley, said Chuck Aggen, with Valley Agronomics out of Nampa. So there will not be any in this facility (motioning to the plant being built near Greenleaf), and nor is there any in any of the facilities that we have across the state. I would live right there next to this location. This is very safe.
Ammonium nitrate was used in the Oklahoma City bombing. Meanwhile, every fertilizer facility we could find here in Idaho stores, mixes, or creates fertilizer composed of ammonium phosphate. Ammonium phosphate is actually a flame retardant, and is even used in some breads.
Phosphate is... you don't have to worry about that, said Aggen. It will burn if it's in the right situation, but it's not something that will explode.
There are some plants in Northwest that make fertilizer with the more explosive ammonium nitrate (there's one in Kennewick, Washington). But why use it? It is cheaper and very effective.
According to the Fertilizer Institute, there are no plants in Idaho that use it.
The J.R. Simplot Company, which runs a big fertilizer plant over in Pocatello, released a statement offering its thoughts and prayers to the people affected by this explosion. It also said, There is nothing more important to the J.R. Simplot Company than the safety of our employees and communities. This is why we are so diligent in everything we do, every day to ensure the safety of our operations.
According to data compiled by the Guardian Newspaper, if this is deemed an accident, it would be the sixth unintended ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in the U.S. that injured or killed people. It would be the first since 1994 in Iowa. People might also remember a fertilizer truck explosion in Roseburg, Oregon in 1959 that also included some dynamite.