Sample Chemistry Case study Paper on West Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast 2013

West Texas Fertilizer Plant Blast 2013

The explosion took place at the West Fertilizer Company facility that is used mainly for the storage and distribution purposes. A minimum number of 14 people died, and about 200 were injured. The explosion also damaged about 150 buildings that involved residential homes, middle school, and nursing home that neighbored the company. Different reports were filed concerning the sources of the explosion. Among them was a report, which indicated that the facility had stored a large quantity of ammonium nitrate that was beyond the capacity allowed by the regulations. The report argued that the company acted against the regulations set by the Department of Homeland Security that is meant to ensure the safety of people is not jeopardized (Yonekawa et al., 2014).

Chemistry Point of View of West Fertilizer Company Explosion

Ammonium nitrate is the major component that is used in the manufacturing of fertilizers by the West Fertilizer Company. Ammonium nitrate can decompose without exploding when exposed to heat. However, the ammonium nitrate can be induced to decompose in an explosive manner causing a violent release of energy that is produced by a chemical reaction in a process that is referred to as detonation. There are different chemical reactions that can cause ammonium nitrate to explode resulting in the incident that was experienced by the West Fertilizer Company in the year 2013. The first reaction could involve the explosion taking place as a result of the mechanism of a shock leading to detonation transition. The initiation of this chemical process could be as a result of either explosive charge going off in the mass due to the detonation of a shell that has been thrown into the mass. Secondly, the initiation process could result from the detonation of an explosive mixture that comes into contact with the mass (Yonekawaet al., 2014).

An explosion of the company could also have been as a result of the chemical reaction caused by the spreading of fire into the ammonium nitrate compound and hence causing the explosion. Explosion can also be due to the mixing ammonium nitrate with combustible materials when the fire has started. The process of deflagration to detonation transition (DDT) must be available where a fire is confined to a degree and hence enabling the transition from a fire into an explosion. Pure compact of ammonium nitrate is stable and hence non-explosive and it is difficult for it to initiate an explosion. Impurities, especially combustible, cause the compact of ammonium nitrates to explode in a fire (Sinditskii, Egorshev, Levshenkov, & Serushkin, 2007).

Decomposition of pure ammonium nitrate only starts when at a temperature of about 210 degrees Celsius. However, the compacts of pure ammonium nitrates are stable and they would stop decomposing as soon as the source of heat has been removed. The fact is an indication that the West Fertilizer Company could not have exploded if there was no presence of impurities and catalyst in the storage and distribution facilities that could have accelerated the explosion process. Catalysts, for example, acids, combustible substances, and chlorides metal ions play a significant chemical reaction role in sustaining the decomposition process of ammonium nitrates. The effects would be the explosion of the compound and hence damage to the storage facilities (Sinditskii et al., 2007)

The fire tetrahedron refers to an addition to the fire triangle adding the necessity for the occurrence of a chemical reaction that is the process of fire. The fire was under the category of combustion that involves chemical reaction that adds heat to the fire allowing it to continue. Using carbon dioxide from fire extinguishers can be ineffective and adding water to a chemical reaction can result in explosion and accelerating the fire. Using inert agents is advisable, for instance, dry sand to break the reaction chain in a combustion process and the combustion would hence stop immediately when one element out of three in the fire triangle is removed completely (Sinditskii, et al., 2007).


Sinditskii, V. P., Egorshev, V. Y., Levshenkov, A. I., & Serushkin, V. V. (2007). Ammonium nitrate: Combustion Mechanism and the Role of Additives. Propellants, Explosives, Pyrotechnics, 30(4), 269-280.

Yonekawa, Y., Hacker, H. D., Lehman, R. E., Beal, C. J., Veldman, P. B., Vyas, N. M., … & Kuperwaser, M. C. (2014). Ocular Blast Injuries in Mass-Casualty Incidents: The Marathon Bombing In Boston, Massachusetts, And the Fertilizer Plant Explosion In West, Texas. Ophthalmology, 121(9), 1670-1676.