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Officials: Explosive material improperly stored at NC plant

A view from Indiana Avenue in Winston-Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, not far from where smoke continued to pour out of the fire at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant.
Mitchell Northam
/
WUNC
A view from Indiana Avenue in Winston-Salem on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022, not far from where smoke continued to pour out of the fire at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant.

Hundreds of tons of a potentially explosive fertilizer ingredient was improperly stored at a North Carolina plant when it was destroyed by a fire that burned for days earlier this year, a state investigation found.

The North Carolina Department of Labor levied $5,600 in fines on Winston Weaver Co. based on information from interviews with company employees, The Winston-Salem Journal reported.

The massive fertilizer plant fire that started on Jan. 31 and the threat of explosion forced thousands of area residents from their homes. The potential for what Winston-Salem Fire Chief Trey Mayo feared could be “one of the worst explosions in U.S. history” prompted responders to retreat.

In a citation issued July 18, the agency reported that 500 tons of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive substance used as an ingredient in fertilizer, was exposed to water leaking into the building, the Department of Labor reported in a citation issued to the company July 18. Investigators also found that wooden storage bins weren’t adequate to keep ammonium nitrate from escaping or other substances from entering.

The investigation into ammonium nitrate storage remains open, and the company has the option to appeal the citations and fines, department spokesman John Mallow said.

Last week, Winston-Salem officials announced that the damage was so severe that investigators had been unable to determine the cause or origin of the blaze.

The Department of Environmental Quality approved plans last month to test soil and groundwater for contamination at the site. A contractor will spend up to four months collecting and analyzing hundreds of samples for potentially hazardous materials left behind from the fire.

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