Q. Does Aberdeen have any big amounts of fertilizer of the type that blew up in Texas? With our huge agricultural economy it seems that we’d have a lot of that stuff around here.
A. Brown County Emergency Management Director Scott Meints reports that Aberdeen does not have large stores of volatile fertilizer in proximity to where people live. There are some businesses outside the city which store it for retail or wholesale purposes, but not in situations that present a danger to residences.
There are materials which require special attention for safety routinely stored in the city in varying quantities, especially petroleum products such as gas, oil, propane, etc. Any large stores of materials, though, are situated outside of the city; for example the propane tank farm north on 281.
The Brown County Fire HazMat Team is trained and prepared with response plans for accidents and incidents involving hazardous materials. They regularly review and update them.
Every city in the country with train tracks relies on railroad companies’ compliance with safety requirements. It is obviously in their interest to avoid incidents. There is no local control over what material does come through here; it would be naive to think we are exempt from any risk associated with some of the stuff in those cars.
Incidents of train accidents releasing dangerous chemicals resulting in fatalities have been rare, especially when one considers the huge volumes moved every day by thousands of trains. A derailment in Minot, N.D., was the most notable recent exception. In 2002, one person died and hundreds were injured there when ammonia gas was released into the city. Emergency notification alert systems were found to be seriously inadequate or inoperative and cities around the country should have learned from those mistakes.
Truck traffic load content is also largely impossible to control and it’s likely there is plenty of potentially dangerous stuff passing through regularly. Fortunately, we are not as threatened as they are in the oil boom in North Dakota. There, residents have endured literally thousands of polluting events at well sites and connecting roadways in the past few years; and those are only the reported cases.
So, to answer the question, there is no evidence to make us think we are unreasonably at risk here anymore than most cities our size, but accidents are called accidents for a reason. They are unplanned and unexpected and our assigned responders are serious about their training and preparedness in case it happens.
Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen's views are his own and don't necessarily represent those of other city officials. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.