Updated: 04/22/2013 3:09 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert
The state of Minnesota is home to nearly 700 facilities that produce or store fertilizer and all are inspected and permitted by the Dept. of Agriculture.
First responders even train at some of the storage sites to be prepared in case of an emergency. The necessity of such training was underscored by Wednesday's massive explosion at a fertilizer facility in West, TX.
In Minnesota, 20 facilities use anhydrous ammonia to produce liquid fertilizer and about 675 facilities store various types of fertilizer, according to the state agriculture officials.
"We have a very strict routine to ensure that the facilities who are distributing are operating safely," said Joe Spitzmueller, manager of the Pesticide and Fertilizer Management Division.
A team of 16 inspectors visit each facility once every three years, Spitzmueller said. Approximately 30 percent - nearly one out of every three - of the 287 anhydrous ammonia storage facilities around the state have some type of violation of state law or rules, according to Spitzmueller.
"We hope that that will improve and we are always working to improve that," Spitzmueller said in an interview Thursday.
Few of the violations, however, were critical enough to shut down the facility.
"I don't want to say (the violations are) unimportant, but not necessarily critical to the safe operation of the site," Spitzmueller explained. "If you look at other fertilizer storage facilities, that number wouldn't be nearly that high."
Since after World War I, fertilizers have become a big part of a farmer's toolkit.
"The planet would have a third as many people on it if it weren't for fertilizers," declared Dr. Chris Cramer, a chemistry professor at the University of Minnesota.
Cramer explained in an interview that fertilizers deliver nitrogen to the soil, which is a key element to help the crops we eat grow.
"Every time a farmer plants a crop in a field, it uses up the nitrogen in that soil. And if you don't put nitrogen back into the soil, you will not grow another generation of crops in there," said Dr. Cramer.