Fertilizer plant explosion in Union Mills, Ind.: One death reported

Fertilizer plant explosion in Union Mills, Ind.: One death reported

Indianapolis : IN : USA | Jun 24, 2013 at 1:26 PM PDT
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fertilizer plant

An explosion at a fertilizer plant in the northwest city of Union Mills, Ind. has killed one person, according to an Associated Press report.

The LaPorte County Sheriff's Department confirmed that one person was killed in an explosion in Union Mills.

Sheriff's Deputy Neil Lachmund says all other people are accounted for after the explosion Monday afternoon at the Union Mills Co-op. about 50 miles southeast of Chicago. Lachmund says two other people are being checked for injuries.

This explosion comes less than two weeks after the Williams Olefins chemical fertilizer plant in Louisiana exploded causing a fire that killed two and injured 101.

State and federal investigators probing the cause of the deadly blast and to inspect a key element of the facility this week that one federal investigator said “failed catastrophically.”

The US Chemical Safety Board, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Louisiana State Fire Marshal’s Office are among the agencies trying to determine the cause of the fatal blast that sent a fireball a few hundred feet in the air.

But Brant Thompson, deputy chief at the state office, said state fire investigators believe the epicenter of the explosion was in a cooling zone of the thermal conversion unit or heat exchanger.

Last April 17 a fertilizer plant blast in the small city of West, Texas killed 15 people and caused $100 million in property damage.

The city of West sued the owner and supplier of the fertilizer plant seeking unspecified damages, accusing the company that owned West Fertilizer Co. — Adair Grain Inc. — and the company that supplied ammonium nitrate — CF Industries — of negligence.

Adair Grain is accused of improper storage of ammonium nitrate, the volatile chemical used as a fertilizer that investigators say exploded after a fire broke out at the plant April 17. But the locally-owned company had only $1 million in liability insurance, which probably would cover only a fraction of the damage.

The lawsuit focuses instead on CF Industries, the company that had been supplying ammonium nitrate to the plant for about two years.

Can regulatory oversight prevent these kinds of accidents?

After the West, Texas explosion, it was discovered that the plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines, according to a report in Salon.

Regulatory agencies are not sharing information

At least seven different state and federal agencies can regulate Texas fertilizer plants like the one in West: OSHA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Feed and Fertilizer Control Service, according to the Salon article.

Some of the agencies don’t appear to have shared information before the blast.

Fertilizer plants that hold more than 400 pounds of ammonium nitrate, for instance, are required to notify the Department of Homeland Security. (Ammonium nitrate can be used to make bombs. It’s what Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.) The West, Texas plant held 270 tons of the chemical last year, according to a report it filed with the Texas Department of State Health Services, but the plant didn’t tell Homeland Security.

The cause of today’s explosion is not known yet, but all the same questions apply to the Indiana blast that have been asked before. When were they last inspected by the agencies responsible for oversight? Are the regulating agencies coordinating with each other? Is the storage of chemicals being done properly?




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Donaldsville, La fertilizer plant explosion on June 15, 2013.
Dava Castillo is based in Clearlake, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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  • Donaldsville, La fertilizer plant explosion on June 15, 2013.


  • 	The April fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas that killed 14 people has been followed by two more fertilizer blasts this June. 

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