It has been a terrible week in American history, as the nation is mourning the death of three and the injury of over 170 people from the Mondays’ Boston marathon, just two days later on Wednesday April 15, 2013, the city of West, Texas was thrown into pandemonium. About 12 people were confirmed dead in a fertilizer manufacturing plant explosion and rescuers continue to search for missing people through the rubbles. This incident also has over 200 people injured, a couple of residents displaced and millions of dollars’ worth of properties destroyed. Thousands of tons of anhydrous ammonia have been released into the atmosphere leaving the lives of people and animals in this region at great risk.
Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless, highly irritating gas with a sharp, suffocating odor. People will notice the pungent odor at levels ranging from 5 – 50 parts per million (ppm). Irritating effects generally begin at levels between 25-50 ppm, and more serious effects will occur at levels greater than 100 ppm. I believe that the concentration of anhydrous ammonia in the atmosphere will be of great magnitude because the plant was storing as much as 54,000 pounds of this dangerous gas. The blast was so powerful that the United States Geological Survey registered it as a 2.1-magnitude earthquake.
Although, the disaster has happened and lots of lives has been lost, the most important thing now is how to save the life of the thousands of West resident that are still alive. I think this accident should be treated a nuclear disaster and the evacuation exercise must be effective until the EPA can confirm that the concentration of ammonia in the air is no longer toxic. I will like share the guidelines that I got from the North Dakota Department of Health that will be helpful to the resident of West, TX when they are allowed to go back to theirs homes.
Guidelines for people returning to their homes include:
- Food that was not in sealed packaging should be thrown away. Food in the refrigerator should be safe to eat unless there was a power outage. Perishable food items (meat, milk, etc.) in refrigerators where there was a loss of power should be discarded. Foods in freezers during power outages are generally safe to eat unless the power is out for an extended time period.
Food in sealed containers, such as canned goods or those sealed in airtight plastic wrap or in plastic containers may be eaten after cleaning the container thoroughly with soap and water.
Food in boxes that have been opened, such as cereal, crackers, etc., that do not have an airtight seal, should be thrown away.
If you are unsure about food products, a good general rule to follow is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”
- These same general guidelines, apply to pet foods. Pet food that had been left out should be discarded. Pet food in sealed cans or in other airtight packages is safe after the outside of the container is wiped off with a wet cloth. However, pet foods in bags that had been previously opened should be discarded.
Contact your veterinarian if your pet is experiencing symptoms which may be related to exposure to anhydrous ammonia. These symptoms would be similar to those experienced by people, especially those involving difficulty breathing or other respiratory problems.
- There may be a white powder residual in your home. This substance is ammonium hydroxide and occurs after anhydrous ammonia settles out after exposure to water. It is similar to the ammonia used in general home cleaning. If you notice any of this white powder on surfaces in your home, it can be safely cleaned up simply by using a wet cloth. This substance could cause skin irritation, so rubber gloves should be used when cleaning.
- If this white residue is on clothing or other fabrics, they can be cleaned in a washing machine.
- Plates, silver ware and other eating utensils can be cleaned in a dishwasher or by washing with soap and water.
- Avoid eating snow (especially Kids). It is possible that the snow may be contaminated with small amounts of anhydrous ammonia and could cause skin irritation. Direct skin contact with snow should be minimized
Associated press also reports that the Texas plant last OSHA inspection was dated back to 1985. I think somebody should be responsible for this and justice administered. I also think that accidents like this could be avoided if proper oversights are provided and regulatory agencies do their job. Your comment will be appreciated below about providing adequate safety for the people of West, TX and the world at large.