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West Texas plant filled with anhydrous ammonia

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POSTED: Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 7:21pm

UPDATED: Friday, April 19, 2013 - 12:30pm

The devastating explosion at a fertilizer plant in West Texas leaves more than 160 people injured.

Reports say the plant was filled with 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia.

A type of ammonia farmers use especially in West Texas for the cotton fields.

Director of Chemistry at TJC Rodney Whetzel says the anhydrous ammonia is a gas at room temperature.

Whetzel says when used in agriculture anhydrous ammonia is compressed into a liquid and stored under high pressure tanks.

"If the tank heated and warmed and it's already under pressure and you're trying to keep it cool, the heat is going to make it want to expand and that probably ruptured there tank," said Whetzel. 

The shock wave, which reports say measured as a 2.1 magnitude earth quake, shook homes as far as 50 miles away.

But, many are also worried about the ammonia in the air.

Russell Hopkins with the Northeast Public Health District says the fire kills the ammonia.

The rain and wind today also helped dissolve the chemicals that may have been released.

"It's probably already dissipated by the heat primarily and secondary the wind will further dissipate it and then we just got a line of thunderstorms coming through and it will wash it out in the atmosphere," said Hopkins.  

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Turns out anhydrous ammonia and water give of an exothermic reaction. That is gives off heat. Lots of heat. And if any of you bail hay you know wet hay put in a barn will heat up til the barn catches fire.

The fire fighters used water on it. Well the water on the anhydrous ammonia caused a runaway heat buildup and it blew.

I would have thought someone on site would have known, due to hazmat regs, about this. Guess they didn't.

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