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EMS Officials, Firefighters Tour Fertilizer Plant to Prepare for Emergency Response in Corpus Christi, Texas

051613WestTexasblast-2

First responders tour Corpus Christi fertilizer plant to learn about chemicals, emergency response
Erica Quiroz

CORPUS CHRISTI - After an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant killed 14 and injured 200 people, the Corpus Christi Local Emergency Planning Committee set out to educate residents and first responders about the types of fertilizer used at three facilities in the Coastal Bend.

Corpus Christi firefighters and EMS officials toured GateFront fertilizer plant Thursday to learn about the types of chemicals used in the plant and emergency safety procedures on how to handle them.

Jeff Holley, terminal manager, said the plant mixes ammonium polyphosphate with anhydrous ammonia, a type of liquid fertilizer, and ships the product to their customers.

The plant has nine tanks that hold 2 million gallons each and several small tanks that hold 1 million gallons of the chemicals, Holley said. The terminal is located on the Corpus Christi Ship Channel.

"The chemical we have here is not the same as the one in West," Holley said. "Nothing we have here is flammable or combustible. We want residents to know they're safe here and a situation like West can't happen."

Anhydrous ammonia was stored at the West Fertilizer Co., but investigators ruled it out as the cause of the explosion. It was determined ammonium nitrate detonated after a fire started near the fertilizer and seed building, investigators said. A cause for the fire has not been determined yet.

Dan Reynolds, president of GateFront, said anhydrous ammonia can be dangerous if inhaled, and a safety session at the plant last year provided local first responders with information on how to contain it.

Reynolds said rail cars are used to ship the chemical to customers across the country.

"Using rail cars is the safest way for the chemical to travel," Reynolds said. "There's always a chance something could go wrong, but we have the personnel and resources here to handle the situation to aid safety officials."

Corpus Christi Fire Department Battalion 2 Chief Kenneth Erben said responding to these types of emergencies are rare, but learning more about fertilizer facilities is important.

"It takes the mystery out of what we would be dealing with if these chemicals were to be released," Erben said. "Presentations like this help us plan and prepare."

Reynolds said educating safety officials is key.

"The more we help the public understand how we operate and what is around them, the safer we'll all be," Reynolds said.



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