Tragic explosion in Texas serves as safety reminder for Hawaii businesses

Video courtesy: Erick Perez

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As many as 15 people are feared dead in Texas from a blast that also damaged homes and knocked people off their feet.

The explosion happened at a fertilizer plant in west Texas. The facility held tons of ammonium nitrate — an extremely hazardous material that is also sold in Hawaii.

Dramatic video of the massive explosion has many asking, “Could this happen here?”

“What happened in Texas was a fertilizing manufacturing plant. We don’t have anything like that in Hawaii,” said Gary Gill, Deputy Director for Environmental Health Administration.

But we do have ammonium nitrate in Hawaii and the state knows who has it and how much.

A law passed in 1993, established reporting requirements for businesses that store, use, or manufacture hazardous chemicals and substances and extremely hazardous chemicals like ammonium nitrate and urea nitrate.

According to the Texas State Department of Health, the fertilizer plant held 270 tons of ammonium nitrate as of Dec. 31.

“There are hazardous chemicals stored in as many as 850 different locations. According to our records across the state, there are maybe about dozen facilities that store ammonium nitrate or urea, which are potentially hazardous or could be explosive under certain circumstances,” Gill said.

Explosions of ammonium nitrate have caused some of the world’s most deadly industrial accidents. The chemical is used as a fertilizer, but it can also be used to make a bomb. An estimated two tons were used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

The reporting threshold for hazardous chemicals is 10,000 pounds, but if the chemical is considered an extremely hazardous substance the reporting threshold is 500 pounds or less.

“I don’t thinks it’s possible that anything of the scale that we saw in Texas could possibly happen here in Hawaii. We don’t have that volume,” Gill said.

BEI Hawaii is one of several local companies that offer a line of fertilizers.

“We have a lot of dry blended fertilizers and we do have liquid fertilizers, but we do not manufacture any liquid fertilizers,” BEI Hawaii Distribution President Carolyn Ambrose said. “We have been in business for a long and there has never been an incident regarding any hazard with fertilizers.”

The tragedy in Texas is reminder — safety is always a priority.

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