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Texas explosion raises concerns for other towns eying fertilizer plants

Smoke rises in the distance about half a mile from the West Fertilizer Company April 18, 2013 in West, Texas. A massive explosion at the fertilizer company injured more than 100 people and left damaged buildings for blocks in every direction.

The explosion on Wednesday at a fertilizer plant in the tiny city of West, Texas, has sparked conversation in heartland American towns that have their own fertilizer plants -- or hope to soon.

“I’m reviewing my legislation,” said Illinois Rep. Adam Brown, who has been working to attract the Chronus Chemical company to the town of Tuscola in Central Illinois. Brown, who said Illinois is "in competition" with neighboring Iowa for the plant, said the benefits are clear. He expects the plant would bring $1.2 billion in investment money to the area and create 2,000 union jobs.

But after the explosion in West, he wants more information. “We want to ensure not only that we have huge job creation here in Central Illinois, but that also our workers and our community is projected,” Brown said.

Chronus Chemical says what happened in West, simply couldn’t happen with their planned facility.

“We do not produce, use, or store ammonium nitrate in the Chronus facility,” said Dave Lundy, a spokesman for Chronus. “What Chronus will be producing is urea and urea is not combustible. It’s generally viewed as inflammable.”

Across the state line, in the small town of Wever, Iowa, Kristen Brookhiser, a mother of three, said her heart sank when she heard the news from West, Texas.

“I am concerned about explosions, leaks in the air, how soon would we be able to be notified and would be have enough time to evacuate if we needed to be,” Brookhiser said.

Wever broke ground on a fertilizer plant last fall. Brookhiser said she supports job creation, but objects to the how close the plant is to residential areas.

About the author

Noel King is a reporter for Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk.
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