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JFC.

Like so many people in my neck of the woods (I'm in the DFW area of Texas, about an hour and a half north of West, TX), driving 1-35 is a torment. Wall to wall traffic, and it's the only corridor to Austin. The highlight of every 1-35 trip is a stop in West for kolaches at the Little Czech Bakery. It's a rite of passage for every college student from Baylor to UT, to Texas State, truly.

You pull off the highway, it's right there on the feeder road, and you roll out with fantastic pastries. People at the bakery last night could see the smoke flume, and could feel the concussive wave from the explosion.

There's not much to West, it's a typical small Texas town - a Sonic, Wal-mart, lots and lots of small businesses. And the fertilizer plant. Only about 2000 people in the whole place. Wide open spaces filled with people who don't make much.

To give you an idea of the scope of this, the Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used around 2000 pounds of ammonium nitrate (basically powdered urine) to blow up 16 city blocks. In West, they had 54,000 pounds.

The stuff that blew up last night was anhydrous ammonia, NH3 - stuff you put on your grass to green it up. That ScottsGreen, Miracle Grow, ChemLawn on and on. That's what it is. (To be fair, that stuff is also used in pharmecutical production. But that's not what this particular plant makes.) As a gas, it's absolute poison. If you used ammonia in your bathroom to clean your tub and you didn't have a vent open? You realistically could die. (Hey, on Hoarders they talk about this with cat urine and how it kills people.) Now magnify that to the scale of that plant. It's just devastating.

All this week I've been writing a script for my show about fertilizers, why people need to lay off, etc. Huh. Fucking timely.

[ETA] Correction. Old school NH3, Ammonia nitrate comes from dried urine (usually pigs). This plant used all of this natural gas that's slowly poisoning the water table (another rant for another day) mixed with atmospheric ammonia. Yay? (I wish they'd go back to powdered pig piss. At least that stuff would be getting used. OR STOP USING MANUFACTURED FERTILIZERS, GUYS. FARMS. <-- mostly them.)

I don't know if any of you are from that area (or have people there) but this is a great list of resources from finding people, getting shelter, and organizations that are accepting donations.

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( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
brunettepet
Apr. 18th, 2013 10:28 pm (UTC)
The first picture I saw when i checked Yahoo this AM was the huge plume of smoke as seen from the Czech Stop. What a terrible catastrophe for that small community. Everyone there is going to know each person injured and killed.

Also, what is the long term damage? Is this stuff going to poison the water table around the blast? The land? My thoughts are with everyone involved. The damage looks terrifying.
stoney321
Apr. 18th, 2013 10:36 pm (UTC)
The important thing about NH3 is how quickly it binds (the nitrogen) to plant material to provide food and then filters through the soil. I don't know the longevity of it (I'm actually poring through all of my extension agency text books looking for my notes on ammonia) off the top of my head, but excessive use causes runoff into water supplies, which merges into our rivers, to the Mississippi, to the gulf. And then you get algae blooms (they THRIVE on the nitrogen) which kill off everything to a depth of up to 500ft in most cases.

It's not that it's poisonous at that point, it's that it literally chokes the life out of all the living creature near the water surface.

In the meantime, all of that ammonia in the air causes serious lung damage and skin burns. Every time I see a volunteer take their rebreathers off I panic.
entrenous88
Apr. 18th, 2013 11:21 pm (UTC)
Gah, I've been thinking about emailing you all day, just because of how devastating this explosion has been. Thanks for posting some info on the terrible consequences of those materials, and for linking to a site listing where donations are best sent.
stoney321
Apr. 18th, 2013 11:58 pm (UTC)
<3 <3 <3 I'm far enough away from the site of the explosion that I'm left staring in wonder and shock like everyone else.

It's been rather heartening, though, to see on the news locally how many people have gone down with supplies, how many people are opening their homes to both people and their pets.

As so clearly evident with what happened in Boston, it's good to see people looking out for each other and wanting to help. That's definitely been the security blanket I've clung to these past few days.

<3
beadattitude
Apr. 19th, 2013 12:55 pm (UTC)
<3
dlgood
Apr. 19th, 2013 02:28 am (UTC)
Another fun reminder of why some business activities really do need to be regulated...
stoney321
Apr. 19th, 2013 02:20 pm (UTC)
THIS. It's just despicable how many regulations (that are desperately needed) have been loosened over the past few decades.
rocketlaunching
Apr. 19th, 2013 03:47 am (UTC)
My heart broke when I saw that. Do you think it was another attack or an industrial accident? I read somewhere that Texas is not super big on regulation. I am seriously so, so, SO done with this week (I'm a Bostonian in Boston :/) but there is literally nothing at all I can do to escape all of this tragedy. God bless Texas, and the rest of America.
eac
Apr. 19th, 2013 03:58 am (UTC)
Hey, good wishes about Boston.
stoney321
Apr. 19th, 2013 02:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was 100% an industrial attack, no question about it.

What a fucking week, right? *hugs you*
eac
Apr. 19th, 2013 03:57 am (UTC)
I'm not from Texas, but I did go to school in Austin for 2 years in the mid-90s, and I know this stretch of road well, which makes this explosion even less academic for me than usual. I'm super sorry. :(
stoney321
Apr. 19th, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
Yeah, you can't live in Austin without getting painfully intimate with 35. :)

I wish there was more discussion happening about the environmental impact this will have - it's important and SHOULD instigate investigation into our cultural practices/regulatory oversight.

*hugs*
liz_marcs
Apr. 19th, 2013 01:34 pm (UTC)
I am truly sorry to read about the events in your neck of the woods. It's just awful and I feel for everyone in that town.

The thing that blew me away (and almost everyone that I know up here) is when they were showing the Google Maps overview of the area. It's like...was there no zoning laws in the town? It looked like the plant was practically in the middle of town. A bunch of us don't understand why a fertilizer plant handling ammonia nitrate (of all things) wouldn't be isolated from the town by at least a half-mile just as a safety margin (an inadequate safety margin, as it turns out, but still).

Industrial accidents are the worst, because they really do affect the surrounding community with toxic fumes and can result in devastation. But this...it truly is horrifying.
stoney321
Apr. 19th, 2013 02:19 pm (UTC)
The zoning there was crazy. (As in, there wasn't really any.) Where I live, zoning is TIGHT. So yeah, that's baffling to me, too.
liz_marcs
Apr. 19th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
Between the Boston Marathon bombing in my backyard and the on-going manhunt that is literally going on in practically my backyard, and the horrible events that rained down on you in your backyard, I've decided...

This week is so fired.

I really need to unplug from the world, put my hands over my ears, and start singing at the top of my lungs, because right now I'm so done.
stoney321
Apr. 19th, 2013 04:53 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to stay in close contact all day with my other Boston 'burb friends, too. It's INSANE.

Which is why I am spending the day reading fluffy fanfic. GOOD FOR WHAT AILS YOU. <3
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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