Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Wonder the Public is Ill-informed

The discussion about the location of chemical plants and emergency responder knowledge of what is stored at chemical plants is a complicated enough problem that it does not need to be complicated by unnecessary public hysteria. It is now wonder, however, that the public gets concerned when inaccurate news stories like this piece at about the closing of an ammonium nitrate distribution facility ‘contribute to the discussion’.

The article is actually an extraction of information from a well written local Texas newspaper article about the apparent closing of an El Dorado Chemical company distribution facility in Pittsburg, TX (NOT Pennsylvania as HSNW reports). The newspaper story is part of the on-going discussion in Texas about ammonium nitrate distribution facilities in small towns across the State; a discussion started by the West Fertilizer plant explosion in April of last year.

The HSNW digested story reports that “ the Pittsburgh facility, which was reported to have stored around thirty tons of ammonium nitrate — the combustible matter responsible for the West disaster — at the time of the 17 April incident”. What the newspaper story actually said was that the “West plant [not the Pittsburg facility] was reported to be storing about 30 tons of ammonium nitrate, investigators say exploded after a fire broke out in the West plant on April 17, 2013”.

The HSNW story goes on about how officials were concerned about the movement of the ’30 tons of ammonium nitrate’ saying: “While some — including Superintendent Judy Pollan — were relieved that the company was now gone, others questioned the danger of moving the thirty tons of chemicals around within the city.” Not only was this ‘questioned the danger’ statement never mentioned in the newspaper article but the topic of the transportation of ammonium nitrate was never mentioned and has generally been absent from the discussion of the West, TX incident.

Another silly statement was made-up whole in the opening paragraph of the HSNW story: “The city emergency management department was aware that the plant was to be closed, but they were not informed of the date – or the fact that the company chose to move the volatile and toxic material [emphasis added].” Forget, for the moment that ammonium nitrate is not ‘volatile’ or ‘toxic’ but everyone would hope that the company would move the ammonium nitrate out of a facility that was being closed. Not doing so would pose a larger danger to the community.

The HSNW story makes the closing of the Pittsburg, TX facility sound like some diabolical plot by a nefarious chemical company. The newspaper story paints a much better picture of a complicated issue that faces many rural towns; agricultural chemical storage facilities that have been a fixture of the town for a long time, but are now a potential danger as the town has grown up around them. The HSNW story does nothing to help understand the problem.

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