Pee Dee responders say they're prepared for disasters at fertilizer plants

Agrium plant in Hartsville

Emergency preparedness officials and first responders say they're prepared to handle major disasters at fertilizer plants in the Pee Dee area.

Palmetto Rural Fire Chief Tommy Spivey says he doesn't believe we'll see a fire in our area as explosive as the one in West, Texas Wednesday night because they no longer have a plant in our area using ammonium nitrate.

Officials with Clemson Regulatory Commission say the Agrium plant in Hartsville was the only one in our area with ammonium nitrate, the same chemical involved in the explosions in West, TX, and it burned in February 2011.

"You don't have anything out there that would be very explosive like you seen in Texas last night. We do have plans in place. We do preplans of the facility every year," said Tommy Spivey.

There are at least 35 fertilizer and distribution plants in the Pee Dee, Horry, Robeson, and Scotland counties.

Every year, the plants have to submit plans to local emergency management officials including what chemicals they store and how much of it is inside the plant.

Darlington County Emergency Management Coordinator Mac McDonald says this is information is critical when it comes to responding to an disastrous event at a fertilizer plant.

The facilities must also provide Risk Management Plans to the Environmental Protection Agency detailing response plans and measures.

"Information is critical in that first 30 minutes. We need to know what's there, how much and what we're dealing with. That also helps us make the protective action decisions to protect citizens," said McDonald.

He says they learned a lot when responding to the fire at Agrium, which destroyed the plant and forced residents in a nearby community to evacuate their homes.

The company cleaned the 32 acre property on which the plant once rested but decided not to rebuild.

The plant employed 60 people.

We may never know what caused the fire.

However, Darlington Emergency Management officials aren't taking any chances.

They hold training exercises every year for disasters like the one in Texas.