Under normal conditions you could exit my house by driving West or by driving East. Starting Friday you could only go East. Though it hasn’t made the international news, somebody turned over an anhydrous ammonia tank on the road to Rockbridge and dad described it as the scene from E.T. Plastic, flashing lights, evacuations, teams of “scientists” in suits.
Let’s lay a foundation here. First I want to say that I don’t believe anyone was injured as a direct result of this accident. From what I have put together, the driver of the truck lost the tank somehow (hitch came loose?) and it started chasing him down a hill. He tried to stop but ended up in the ditch next to a pond with the anhydrous tank crashing through the back window of his truck. He escaped before ammonia flooded the cab of the vehicle. Had he been in there…
Now, I’m not a big fan of anhydrous ammonia. We (as a planet) use 1% of the power we generate manufacturing it. Depending on who you read it kills a lot of earthworms when used in a field. It falls deeply under the umbrella of chemical agriculture. It is used to store cheap nitrogen in the soil to boost corn yields the following summer. It is dang-near ubiquitous in modern agriculture. We have bulldozed out the fence rows (where rabbits and quail lived) in favor of flat, tiled fields farmed all the way to the ditch. We have to farm every square inch and need every advantage we can get. Farming is a business after all. It’s a business, requires efficiency and 100% resource utilization. Tomorrow we’ll invent solutions to the problems we are creating today. Today we need anhydrous.
So. We have a compound of Nitrogen and Hydrogen. A naturally occurring compound in unnatural concentration. This compound is being sprayed on all the fields in the midwest where corn will be planted next Spring but you spill 1000 pounds on the side of the road and the hazmat team has to show up and deal with it? Where is the hazmat team when it is being injected into the field outside of my home? I mean, even if it got dumped into the pond at the bottom of the hill you’re going to end up with ammonium hydroxide…a household cleaner. Is this a big deal? YES?!? Is it a big deal because of the scale or should I not have ammonium hydroxide in my home? We can at least be consistent!
Now, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am no fan of chemical fertilizers of any flavor but I am also not a fan of state and federal bureaucracies infesting neighboring hillsides. Why are they here? Get the neighbors evacuated and let things run their course. I mean, it’s not like the hazmat team is going to clean up the lawyers too! If anhydrous ammonia is a problem why do we spray tons and tons of it on the soil surrounding my farm?…on the soil that washes into my pond?!?!
So anyway, there’s one way outta here. Practice crop rotation, diversify our farms again and fertilize with composted animal manure or (gasp!) composted human manure. But what do I know? I don’t have a job with the department of ag, I don’t clean up spills, I’m not a firefighter, I don’t work for the EPA, I’m not a legislator, lobbyist or lawyer. I’m just a computer geek with a biology degree pretending to be a farmer…certainly not an expert. I do know my road has never been blocked for a week because horse manure got spilled on it.