Texas plant explosion: Dangers here?

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SEATTLE — While investigators try to figure out what caused the explosion and fire at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, some are wondering if an explosion such as Texas’ could happen in Seattle.

The fertilizer industry is a growing, multi-billion dollar business with plants all around the country. In Washington state, there are more than 100 storage facilities regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency,  but only one, Agrium, in Kennewick, that manufactures fertilizer similar to the Texas plant.

In 2005, the EPA fined Agrium $25,000 dollars when a hazardous gas was released at the plant. The Department of Labor is currently inspecting the plant.

Even with its problems, a spokesman for the industry — based in Spokane — said fires or explosions like the one that occurred in Texas are extremely rare.

“This is highly unusual,” said Jim Fitzgerald of Far West Agribusiness Association. “I’ve never even heard of a fertilizer plant having a fire or even an explosion of this magnitude.”

Fitzgerald said the lone fertilizer plant shouldn’t pose a threat to workers or the community, even though fertilizer plants contained volatile material such oil and gas.

“It’s a compressed gas, so it’s like a natural gas,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s like propane and most people in town have a barbeque on the back deck and in that five gallon container is propane and how often do we hear of those exploding?”

The larger threat in our state may come from our six oil and gas refineries, Fitzgerald said. In 1998, six people were killed at a refinery explosion in Anacortes, Wash. Twelve years later, there was an explosion and fire at the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes that killed seven workers. The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries found more than 40 health and safety violations it said led to the deadly fire at the Tesoro Refinery.

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