Last updated: August 25. 2013 7:17AM - 1939 Views

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LIMA Workers at the PCS Nitrogen Ohio plant in Lima, which is the state's only anhydrous-ammonia-maker, gathered Thursday for a moment of silence to commemorate the people affected by a devastating explosion at a Texas fertilizer plant on Wednesday night.

"It impacted everybody here," said Todd Sutton, general manager. "Our prayers are going out for the people affected."

The explosion in the Texas town of West also highlighted the potential danger that exists at many workplaces.

Ohio companies stopped making and using an explosive form of ammonia after Timothy McVeigh used a bomb made mostly from ammonia-based fertilizer to blow up Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on this date in 1995.

However, PCS Nitrogen Ohio makes anhydrous ammonia a less-explosive but still potentially hazardous form and many companies use the compound to make agricultural fertilizers and other products, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Anhydrous ammonia has been implicated in the Texas blast.

Ohio has 850 chemical plants, most of which make specialty chemicals used for industries ranging from plastics to coatings to manufacturing, according to the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council.

Ohio chemical plants are small and few in relation to "the number of massive, large chemical facilities in Texas and Louisiana," said Jack Pounds, president of the chemistry technology council.

Since 1986, chemical companies have been required to disclose what they make and where it is stored at their plant. Companies work with local fire departments and emergency-planning agencies to hold drills and train workers how to handle the chemicals.

"The programs are very good. The training is in place," Pounds said. Until more is known about what happened in Texas, it will be difficult to assess how chemical companies in Ohio will react, he said.

Many fertilizer companies in Ohio once used ammonium nitrate in their products because it is a good way of getting nitrogen into soil for plants to use.

"It was something really common in Ohio, up until the Oklahoma City bombing," said Erica Pitchford Hawkins, communications director for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Since the bombing, however, ammonium nitrate is "incredibly tightly regulated by the federal government," Hawkins said. "Most people don't want anything to do with it."

Most fertilizer-makers now use anhydrous ammonia a pungent-smelling gas made from nitrogen and hydrogen in the form of a salt or solution to make their products.

The PCS Nitrogen Ohio plant, which employs 240, including contractors, has risk-management plans and procedures, plus layers of safety measures, to protect against accidental release of ammonia or a fire or attack, Sutton said.

The plant, which goes by the trade name PotashCorp.-Lima, and its workers have gone 12 years without a work-related injury, Sutton said.

"That's a good example of how the policies, procedures and systems we have in place as well as the caliber of the people who work at the site are working effectively," he said.

Truepointe Cooperative in Piqua uses anhydrous ammonia to make its fertilizers, said Phil Altstaetter, a crop-nutrient manager. "We do have anhydrous-ammonia facilities, all of which are permitted and regularly inspected to be compliant with" regulations, Altstaetter said.

"We have a team of four employees who focus daily on safety," he said, "not only of our employees and our facilities, but also the communities of which we are a part.

"Safety, both of the environment and our people, (is) important. We do everything our permits require us to do to operate in a very safe way," Altstaetter said.

Some fertilizer companies use other compounds to enrich the soil with nutrients.

"Our process is very different from the one used in Texas," said Lance Latham, public-affairs director for Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. in Marysville. "We don't use anhydrous ammonia or ammonium nitrate."

Instead, Scotts uses urea as the basis for its lawn fertilizers. "The raw materials we use are considered low-risk," Latham said.

Dispatch reporters Mark A. Williams and Dan Gearino contributed to this report.

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