One of the issues that was raised in the CSB’s report on the West Fertilizer explosion was land use planning and hazardous chemical facility siting. The question was asked in that report: “Why would a community be located so close to a facility storing a potentially dangerous chemical?” That same question was recently asked in an Iowa farm community with a different chemical, anhydrous ammonia, but in a more proactive manner.
It seems that a Midwestern farm chemical supply company recently shut down a fertilizer distribution facility. One of the reasons was apparently concerns about the location of their anhydrous ammonia storage tanks inside of a town of 800 people. While they had reportedly never had ammonia release, the potential consequences of such a release could be quite severe.
In searching for a site for a replacement facility, the company obviously wanted to be close to their customers, corn farmers, so they wanted a location near a farming community. They selected a site on a state highway a little more than a mile outside of a town of about 4,000 people. Then they went to the local government board to request an appropriate zoning change for the property.
It was not a completely isolated location, and a few of their potential neighbors objected. It was even suggested that the facility be located at an existing farm supply facility right in town. If that plan had been accepted it would have placed the entire town within the facility’s danger zone as calculated by the EPA’s RMP*Comp program. The planning board demurred and ended up approving the site outside of town.
While that is the end of the story in the local paper, it may not be the end of the problem. If we look at a map of the area we can see that businesses are already expanding out of town along the state highway. Those businesses are already within a mile of the proposed fertilizer facility. It does not take any great skill to see that if the town continues to expand, one of the areas where that expansion will head is straight towards the new fertilizer company.
If the local leaders don’t keep the potential hazard in mind as they continue to allow their town to expand, then in five or ten years an accident at that facility could have a devastating impact on another small, tight knit community; all for the want of effective land use planning that takes into account potential chemical hazards at local businesses.