Workers at Georgia’s largest fertilizer plant – situated three miles from downtown Augusta – offered condolences Wednesday to victims of the Texas plant explosion and reassured the community that its local safety programs are thorough.
“This site has been assessed to determine any potential risks to employees and the surrounding community,” said Keith Wilson, the ammonia technology manager for PCS Nitrogen Fertilizer L.P., which operates a mammoth plant off Columbia Nitrogen Road.
The plant’s parent company, PotashCorp, is monitoring the investigation into the West Fertilizer Co. explosion and “has increased security measures at its sites in an appropriate manner,” Wilson said.
PCS, authorized to store up to 72 million pounds of anhydrous ammonia at one time, is by far the largest among four Georgia facilities that manufacture or blend fertilizers, according to Georgia Environmental Protection Division records.
The others are Agrium U.S. in Americus, which can store 440,000 pounds; BASF Corp. of Attapulgus, authorized to store 52,000 pounds; and Colquitt Ag Services Inc., near Moultrie, authorized to store up to 50,000 pounds.
Any such facility that handles 10,000 pounds or more of the chemical must develop a detailed risk management plan, said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers. Such plans include accident histories and detailed emergency response initiatives.
The Augusta facility has a long history of superior safety programs, including a recently achieved milestone of 5 million work-hours without a lost-time incident.
“This is a world-scale fertilizer production facility,” Wilson said, “and we also have a world-class emergency response and safety program.”
As the causes of the Texas explosion become known, PCS officials will pay close attention to any lessons learned and “will make improvements if necessary,” Wilson said.
Local officials declined Thursday to speculate on the cause of the
Texas explosion, but reiterated that PCS has layers of safety features designed to prevent an accident or explosion.
“Our ammonia production and storage facilities have strategically placed security cameras, laser detection, secondary containment, emergency shutdown systems as well as water mitigation systems to reduce on-site and off-site exposure in the unlikely event of a release,” he said.
The plant also maintains close contact with the Richmond County Emergency Management Agency.
Special Operations Chief Wayne Taylor, of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department, said the area’s emergency responders communicate frequently with industry officials to conduct drills, share information and work toward better emergency preparedness programs.
The county also has an active Local Emergency Planning Committee that includes 40 to 65 members who work to keep communication open with the community, safety experts in industries and the public.
An event such as the Texas blast, Taylor added, would challenge a community of any size.
“It would require a great number of resources,” he said.