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Experts reiterate safety of Great Yarmouth fertiliser plant after Lebanon explosion

PUBLISHED: 16:04 14 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:04 14 August 2020

Bunn Fertiliser Ltd, on South Denes Road, Great Yarmouth, was acquired by Origin in 2017.  Picture: James Bass

Bunn Fertiliser Ltd, on South Denes Road, Great Yarmouth, was acquired by Origin in 2017. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2013

Safety experts are reassuring Great Yarmouth residents living within range of the Origin fertiliser plant that a “Beirut explosion” is a near-impossibility.

A man sits between debris inside his house damaged by the explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020.  (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)A man sits between debris inside his house damaged by the explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

On August 4, an explosion engulfed the Lebanese capital after a fire at the port oxidised 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at a nearby warehouse.

But the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which regulates the hazardous chemicals industry, has said that storage and use of the chemical in a domestic context is “subject to some of the most stringent controls in the world.”

In Great Yarmouth, the Origin Fertiliser - formerly the Bunn Fertiliser - is classed as a low-tier establishment by the HSE, permitting its storage of up to 1,250 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.

John Cooper is one such Great Yarmouth resident seeking encouragement that the “life-taking event” in Lebanon - much like the one which occured in Texas in 2013 - could not happen on his doorstep.

A statue representing the Lebanese expatriate is seen in front of a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut confronted a scene of utter devastation on Wednesday, a day after a massive explosion at the port rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 100 people, wounding thousands and leaving entire city blocks flooded with glass and rubble. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)A statue representing the Lebanese expatriate is seen in front of a building that was damaged by an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Residents of Beirut confronted a scene of utter devastation on Wednesday, a day after a massive explosion at the port rippled across the Lebanese capital, killing at least 100 people, wounding thousands and leaving entire city blocks flooded with glass and rubble. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

He said: “I am not wrapped up in the expertise regarding ammonium nitrate, but seven years have gone by since the Texas explosion, and I want to know if the regulating authorites are still on the ball.”

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The company in question - Origin Fertiliser - was contacted for comment but redirected us to the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC).

And according to Jo Gilbertson, head of sector fertilisers at the AIC, residents can indeed feel safe in the knowledge that companies such as Origin “know exactly what they’re doing”.

Bunn Fertiliser Ltd, on South Denes Road, Great Yarmouth, was acquired by Origin in 2017.  Picture: James BassBunn Fertiliser Ltd, on South Denes Road, Great Yarmouth, was acquired by Origin in 2017. Picture: James Bass

He said: “While people have every right to be nervous about ammonium nitrate being stored near them, the circumstances in Beirut are really quite unusual - and certainly wouldn’t be replicated here.

“For one thing, all ammonium nitrate fertiliser in the UK is subject to a “detonation resilience test” before it is sold and distributed.”

He added: “What appears to have happened in Beirut is that a large consignment of fertiliser contaminated by seawater ended up in the port where it shouldn’t have been, and was left there for some length of time.

“It goes against all basic health and safety protocols surrounding the storage of the chemical compound.”

HRH The Princess Royal visits Bunn fertiliser ltd in Gt Yarmouth in 2016.  PHOTO: Nick ButcherHRH The Princess Royal visits Bunn fertiliser ltd in Gt Yarmouth in 2016. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

On the topic of HSE and the AIC’s confidence in Origin to mitigate risk and plan for all eventualities, Mr Gilbertson added: “If you’re asking me whether Origin, the biggest fertiliser blending company in the UK, knows exactly what they’re doing and can keep people safe - the answer is most definitely yes. I am in no doubt about that.”


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