Explosives Maker In PA Has 400 Times More Ammonia Than West, Texas, Plant

Jul 21, 2013

Rob Sickles with his son Spencer, 3, on the street between his home and the Dyno Nobel plant in Donora.
Credit Martha Rial

On April 17, when 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas, a shock wave traveling faster than the speed of sound crushed homes. Windows shattered seven miles away. The United States Geological Survey recorded a 2.1 magnitude tremor from the blast.
Fifteen people died, 12 of them firefighters and emergency responders, and 200 were injured.

The same chemical that blew up West — ammonium nitrate — is manufactured in Donora, Pa., 20 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Dyno Nobel is a manufacturer of explosives in Donora, and it stockpiles as much as 23 million pounds of ammonia at a time, according to the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s 432 times more ammonia — the raw material used in making ammonium nitrate fertilizer and explosives —  than was stored in West.

Pennsylvania officials would not release records of ammonia or ammonium nitrate stockpiles, saying the information could threaten public safety. However, a federal law requires the state to disclose that information.  And safety experts said that the public is more likely to be harmed by an industrial accident than by terrorists.

Read more of this story on the website of our partner PublicSource.