Factbox: Anhydrous ammonia's dangers and use

What is anhydrous ammonia, and why is it so dangerous? The factbox below explains the nature of the chemical and U.S use on farms.

The fertilizer plant that exploded on Wednesday night in West, Texas, had tanks of anhydrous ammonia on site.

The following are facts about the production and use of the fertilizer:

* Farmers use anhydrous ammonia as a fertilizer to boost nitrogen levels in the soil and increase corn production.

* Anhydrous ammonia's advantages are that it is relatively easy to apply and readily available.

* Anhydrous ammonia is compressed into a clear, colorless liquid when used as an agricultural fertilizer.

* When anhydrous ammonia comes in contact with any moisture, the ammonia immediately combines with the water. When injected into soil, it turns into a gas, and is absorbed into the soil's moisture.

* If skin, mucous membranes, respiratory system or eyes come in contact with the chemical, the ammonia will rapidly dehydrate the organs and cause severe chemical burns. It also can instantly freeze skin if it comes in contact in liquid form. Victims exposed to the chemical must be treated with large amounts of water to mitigate damage caused.

* Anhydrous ammonia boils at -28 Fahrenheit, and to be stored as a liquid above this temperature, it must be kept under pressure.

* Certain metals such as copper, zinc and their alloys, should never be used to store anhydrous ammonia because of its corrosive nature. Containment must be done in special, high-strength steel.

* Hoses in storage containers are considered the biggest safety watch-out for ammonia production.

* U.S. production of anhydrous ammonia in 2011, the latest year for which data was available, was 9.35 million tonnes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey's minerals yearbook.

* The U.S. imported another 5.6 million tonnes in 2011.

* Other U.S. producers include Agrium Inc, Dakota Gasification Co., Honeywell International Inc, Koch Nitrogen and PCS Nitrogen Inc.

* 87 percent of anhydrous ammonia is used as fertilizer, with the remaining 13 percent used in chemical and industrial sectors.

* Fertilizer is the biggest item other than land in an annual budget for farmers, averaging between $129 and $170 per acre in Illinois in 2013.

* An estimated 6,500 farm retail stores in the United States blend, store or sell fertilizers to farmers.

* Growers often apply in the fall the anhydrous ammonia to fields they plan to seed with corn come spring, but some will put it on during the spring just before planting.

Related: 'Nightmare scenario': Crews search for survivors in Texas plant blast
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