Is anhydrous ammonia dangerous? - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Is anhydrous ammonia dangerous?

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TYLER (KYTX) - So we've heard about the explosion and how it's impacting the community.

But what is the dangerous gas investigators believe caused the explosion in the first place?

It's anhydrous ammonia.

And the gas itself can cause breathing problems and severe burns to people who are in close proximity to it.

Something doctors say shouldn't reach us here, more than 100 miles away.

After the explosion in West, toxic fumes from harmful anhydrous ammonia stored at the fertilizer plant were released into the air.

Doctor Bill Wallace with Urgent Care in Tyler says inhaling the gas causes breathing problems.

"Breathing difficulty, wheezing, chest pains, potentially cardio vascular collapse," says Dr. Wallace.

Dr. Wallace says people with breathing problems like asthma would feel more of the affects, but it could also cause burns to the skin.

"Reacts with the fluid in the tissues and that's why you see the injuries to the respiratory tract, mucus membranes, mouth and eyes," says Dr. Wallace.

Dr. Wallace says if you come in contact with ammonia, it needs to be flushed out immediately. That's why you should use water, and lots of it, even to the eyes to stop the burning.

"They have to be in close proximity to have high concentration to cause serious injury," says Dr. Wallace.

We have a Scott's Miracle Grow plant here in Tyler, it produces potting soils, not fertilizer.

And it doesn't use any high risk chemicals like anhydrous ammonia.

We talked to a spokesperson for Scott's in Marysville, Ohio where the company does produce fertilizer.

"The process we use here in Marysville is completely different then the process used at the facility like the one in West. We actually use a urea product for our source of nitrogen," says Lance Latham, a spokesman with Scott's.

Latham says Scott's doesn't anhydrous ammonia because of the danger.

"Alkali burns to the eyes can be pretty severe and need to be treated quickly," says Dr. Wallace.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anhydrous ammonia is a low cost way to produce fertilizer.

It's supposed to be stored at cold temperatures since it boils at just 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

Initially, when the vapors are released they move close to the ground, causing greater risk for exposure.

The West fertilizer company where the explosion happened operated without a license for its anhydrous ammonia tanks for about two years between 2004 and 2006.

But the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says the business didn't have many complaints from people who live nearby.

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