Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California issued a letter yesterday to the Acting Administrator of the EPA Bob Perciasepe that outlines her intent to investigate the causes of the explosion at a fertilizer supply depot in West, Texas. The Senator is right to ask questions regarding the possible causes of the tragedy and to seek guidance on how future fertilizer explosions can be avoided. But the national conversation about the incident has fertilizer painted with such a broad brush that if you believe media reports, just writing the word fertilizer on a piece of paper could start a fire.
Reports have surfaced that the Texas facility had been storing liquid ammonium nitrate under the EPA's radar. That particular form of fertilizer is very flammable and highly explosive. The complex also stored a large portion of anhydrous ammonia which, when exposed to flame, can be explosive as well.
These sweeping generalizations, however untrue, are likely to find their way into the national conversation regarding the safety of fertilizer. Most of the American public has no idea that there is a range of products that fall under the category of fertilizer -- some are explosive, but most are not.
There is a lot of bad information out there. Retailers would do well to check their P's and Q's as EPA is sure to scrutinize the handling and storage of fertilizer nationwide in the coming months. Click here to read Senator Boxer's letter to the EPA.