Fire officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to determine if fertilizer facilities in Benton County pose any risks that could potentially result in an explosion similar to the one that rocked the small Texas town of West this week.
With the cause of the devastating blast still unclear, Benton Fire District 1 Capt. Jeff Ripley said all his department can do right now is talk with representatives of local facilities to see if there is anything that can be done to improve safety and strengthen emergency response plans.
"What happened in Texas is kind of unknown," Ripley said. "Until more information on the Texas plant is known, it is too early to draw conclusions if we could have the same type of explosion here."
Ripley's department routinely contacts local facilities so firefighters can familiarize themselves with the layouts of the buildings and discuss response plans with the staff, he said.
Ripley said that, to his knowledge, local facilities including Agrium's Kennewick Fertilizer Operations, which has three sites in the Tri-Cities area, don't store large quantities of pressurized materials that would create a blast the size of the one in Texas.
Agrium production superintendent Dave Dey said there are combustible chemicals used in the process of making fertilizer, but there are strict safety guidelines in place to make sure they are handled and stored carefully.
Agrium's government relations manager, Paul Poister, said the standards for storing combustible chemicals are set by multiple state and federal agencies.
"The storage is very heavily regulated," he said. "We have our own stringent company protocol as well."
Agencies that regulate fertilizer facilities across Washington include the state departments of Agriculture, Labor & Industries, and Ecology, as well as the State Fire Marshals, local fire districts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Dey and Poister said they could not discuss whether Agrium's sites in the Tri-Cities potentially could blow up like the Texas facility, because they are not familiar with what type of facility it was or how operations were run.
Ripley also said he couldn't compare the facilities because he wasn't familiar enough with either of their operations.
Agrium uses a number of products in its fertilizer production, including nitric acid solutions, ammonium nitrate, urea ammonium nitrate and calcium ammonium nitrate, according to the Department of Ecology.
The Washington Post reported the Texas facility stored and distributed anhydrous ammonia, which is a fertilizer that can be injected into soil.