Fertilizer Explosion in Texas City

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During the Second World War, the United States used ammonium nitrate as an explosive in the early twentieth century. The culmination of the war in 1945 would not put an end to the manufacture of the chemical. However, ammonium nitrate became the main chemical used in fertilizer production. Grandcamp, a ship carrying ammonium nitrate bound for Europe, sank in 1947. There was government ammunition and cigarettes on board. On April 16, a cigarette smoked by one of the crew caused a fire that led to the loss of 581 lives, destruction of millions of property and injury of thousands of people. The damage spread over a distance of 160 kilometers destroying the city. Ammonium nitrate, the primary chemical used in manufacturing fertilizer is a highly flammable chemical which caused the Texas City disaster after fertilizer explosion.


On 14th April 1947, there was a fire in the ship by the name Grandcamp. The reason of the fire was improper disposal of cigarette by one of the crew. However, the team succeeded in putting out the fire. However, two days later, the crew spotted smoke from the ship while loading at the Texas docks. However, the team could not use hoses for firefighting due to the fear of destroying the goods on board. At the time, the ship was carrying 2300 tons of fertilizer, government ammunition, and tobacco. Releasing water into the cargo area would destroy the fertilizer as well as the tobacco. Therefore, the crew removed the ammunition and restricted oxygen into the ship. Oxygen is a critical element required for fire to burn (Snyder 40). By limiting oxygen, the team attempted to let the fire die down for lack of oxygen.

At the time, a crowd was gathering at the scene watching the yellow-orange smoke. However, restricting oxygen entrance into the ship using steam was not effective since the chemical composition of ammonium nitrate contains oxygen which contributed to the fire smoldering. Flames erupted from the ship leading to a massive explosion that was evident over a distance of 150 miles. The explosion destroyed the ship, threw away the surrounding ships and leveled over five hundred homes in the city. The explosion that resulted from the highly flammable ammonium nitrate in the fertilizer blasted the Monsanto Chemical Plant which further magnified the heat igniting of refineries and chemical tanks located along the harbor. Texas Fertilizer Explosion is the biggest catastrophe experienced in the country regarding ammonium nitrate (Hewitt 97).


The Texas fertilizer explosion crippled the economy of the Texas City (Hammes 365-370). Many businesses thrived well in the environment due to harbor accessibility. The processing plants near the dock enjoyed simple transportation that shipped the goods to external market. However, the explosion destroyed the industries and killed the workers in the industries crippling the economy. Most manufacturers relied on well wishers contributions to resume operations. The survivors suffered massive injuries from the powerful explosion whose power was apparent over 100 kilometers away. Therefore, the businesses stopped operations because of lack of funds and death of employees. Most people suffered psychological trauma and required ample time to recover. The explosion was very devastating.

After the explosion, it was evident that such industries presented an enormous potential danger to people. Therefore, the law prohibited the location of industries near institutions like schools and town with many people. The reason behind the massive damage was the site of the company in a crowded place which attracted many people near the ship. Secondly, there were other industries on the port which also played a significant role in magnifying the fire. Therefore, the law aimed at locating the companies dealing with flammable materials and chemical elements near towns and other areas with dense population. Secondly, the regulations became tighter on smoking in the ship. Smoking was the primary source of the fire. Therefore, more stringent laws were needed to stop the practice. Besides, the law required proper labeling of the transported goods and better inspection of the goods for proper storage. The legislation aimed at eliminating the possibilities of a future scenario with similar effects.

One of the possible measures of eliminating the disaster was putting off the fire using water before the flames burst out. The reaction between ammonium nitrate and water is endothermic (McPherson 15). The reaction absorbs heat leaving the two reactants at a lower temperature when the reaction ends. However, the crew decided to use steam to avoid destruction of the goods on board. The measures to prevent the damage led to worse scenarios. Secondly, it is important for the industries to establish offices that handle safety precautions. When the ship was producing smoke, and the fire was smoldering, people gathered around oblivious of the potential danger. It is the duty of safety officers to evacuate the area since they understand the risks better. Therefore, when the ship started smoking, the officers would have directed the ship away from the crowded harbor to minimize the effects.

The ship was carrying many goods of different kinds. The ship had ammunition, tobacco, and fertilizer. Mixing up the goods was not advisable especially with their flammable characteristics. The ship should divide the cargo area into different compartments. In case there was the need to release water into the cargo area, not all the goods would spoil. The compartmentalization of the cargo area would have allowed the crew to use water in putting out the fire without the fear of destroying the goods. In prevention of another catastrophe of a similar nature, it is advisable to space up industries dealing with flammable products. Having many industries in the same place multiplies the risk posed to the people in the region. If fire attacked one industry, a close distance would allow the fire to spread to other industries leading to higher losses.


The fertilizer explosion in Texas was a devastating event in the history of the country. The fire destroyed property worth millions of shillings and killed thousands of people. The fire resulted from improper disposal of cigarette by the crew in the ship. Ammonium nitrate, the product used in manufacturing fertilizer, is highly flammable and extremely dangerous. The team avoided using water to put off the fire and resulted to using steam to block oxygen from getting to the fire. However, the fire used the oxygen in the structure of ammonium nitrate to smolder and eventually exploded in a horrifying scene. The city came up with strict laws preventing such an event such as clear labeling of the goods, frequent inspection by safety officers and location of industries dealing with flammable material away from the dense population. The regulations aim at preventing great losses to property and lives in case of future accidents.

Works cited

Hammes, Thomas X. "How Will We Fight?." Orbis 53.3 (2009): 365-383.

Hewitt, Kenneth. Regions of risk : a geographical introduction to disasters. Abingdon, Oxon New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

McPherson, Peter A. Practical volumetric analysis. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2015. Print.

Snyder, Jerry K. Impacts of fire flow on distribution system water quality, design, and operation. Denver, CO: AWWA Research Foundation and American Water Works Association, 2002. Print.

December 21, 2022

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