Experts discuss fertilizer safety in wake of Texas explosion - WRBL

Experts discuss fertilizer safety in wake of Texas explosion

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The disastrous explosion at the Texas plant may have you wondering about the fertilizer in your own backyard.

By the time you pick up a bag of fertilizer for your spring seedlings, however, the components are mostly harmless.

There are many types of fertilizer, and you should always look at the three numbers on the bag, which represent the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

Before planting anything, UGA County Agriculture Agent Jennifer Davidson says it's best to do a soil test on your yard. "We have people bring in samples of their yard, tell us what they're wanting to grow," she says. "We send that sample off to the lab in Athens, and then they send us the results back based on what your yard actually has, letting you know exactly what type of fertilizer to put out, how much of that fertilizer and when to put that fertilizer out."

When you play guessing games with your lawn, you run the risk of causing damage. "You can over-fertilize," says Brenda Starke, former owner of John's Lawn and Garden Center. "You can burn anything up. I'd rather under-fertilize than over-fertilize. Our strongest fertilizer is ammonium nitrate, that's 34-0-0, and that's strictly nitrogen. That first number is nitrogen, and it can burn. It requires a lot of water."

Davidson says, "If you over-fertilize, there's a better chance that you would damage or burn your lawn or your crop in some way, and also there's an increased risk that it would run off into our water resources, so we want to be really careful about that as well."

Most of the fertilizer you would use in your yard is safe. However, Starke recommends using a mask just in case. "I would definitely use a mask if I was putting it out, especially the wind we've had this spring. A lot of the wind blowing it, and even though it's not powder, it's a granule, I would still wear a mask when I was putting it out for safety reasons. And always water it in."

Some types of fertilizer are more combustible than your average backyard variety. Ammonium nitrate was used in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Jessi Mitchell

Jessi joined the WRBL news team in October 2012 after working as a freelance production assistant for MTV Networks in Los Angeles.

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