Gases From Texas Fertilizer Plant May Cause Chemical Burns

The number of deaths and serious injuries from a West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion continues to increase, with reports suggesting that as many as 30 people may have died, others remain unaccounted for and information has been released that indicates a cloud of ammonia gas released in the explosion could cause chemical burns.  

The investigation into the fire and explosion at the Adair Grain Inc. fertilizer depot in West, Texas has not yet revealed the cause, but the plant held 270 tons of ammonium nitrate and 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. The latter can be set off by water, and the explosion occurred after firefighters responded to a fire at the plant. Earlier reports had indicated on 25 tons of fertilizer were on the site.

Some firefighters were known to be among the dead, but officials have been cautious about releasing information on the number of dead, while some accounts keep the number at 15, the Mayor’s office has stated that they know of at least 30 fatalities. At least 160 residents were injured and dozens are believed to be missing.

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The blast occurred Wednesday night and impacted much of downtown West, Texas, a town of about 2,800 residents. Homes and businesses were severely damaged, an apartment complex was destroyed and most of the town was evacuated in the aftermath.

Experts say the blast likely released a cloud of anhydrous ammonia gas, which is used as a refrigerant. However, the gas is colorless and was likely widely dispersed over a large area by the blast. The gas could cause chemical burns, corrode tissue and is a respiratory irritant.

Some injured individuals being treated in the aftermath of the blast have suffered burns and respiratory problems, but there is no information on whether they were caused by gas. Local authorities are not calling the gas a threat at this time.

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