Is the Northwest ripe for a fertilizer explosion?

West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion
The aftermath of an April 17, 2013, fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, near Waco. (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Could something like Wednesday’s West, Texas, fertilizer-plant explosion happen in the Pacific Northwest?

There are some red flags.

In Portland, hazmat crews fear the rail cars loaded with fertilizer could be ripe for an explosion. Fertilizer is transported by rail from the Port of Portland throughout the region.

In addition to trains, there are fertilizer storage facilities all over. Those are monitored by local fire departments.

In Kennewick, Wash., a fertilizer plant recently was slapped with some pretty serious safety violations. The owner was fined for safety violations, including “failure to correct deficiencies that could cause death” and leaving tanks of hydrogen gas unsecured.

The company that owns that plant reported it fixed those issues. Still, this factory can produce 170,000 tons of nitrogen- and ammonia-based fertilizer in a single year, which is sold to fruit farmers all over Washington state. And the materials used at the Kennewick plant are much the same as those in the West, Texas, fertilizer-plant explosion.

The Portland area has seen its share of hazmat situations. Two years ago, an ammonia leak at the Alpenrose Dairy kept neighbors in their homes. In another case, a toxic orange cloud escaped the Precision Castparts plant in southeast Portland. However, there were no explosions.

Meanwhile experts said the bag of lawn fertilizer in your garage is not in danger of causing an explosion or setting off a fire. The West, Texas, plant was using a chemical not used in these “garden variety” fertilizers.

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