Federal Agencies Issue Safety Advisory on Ammonium Nitrate

By Roy Maurer Sep 2, 2013

The federal government has issued new guidelines for the safe handling and storage of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer ingredient and explosive behind the deadly April 2013 explosion in West, Texas.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a chemical advisory on Aug. 30, 2013, that provides information on the hazards of ammonium nitrate storage, handling and management.

The guidelines are not legally binding.

“Understanding and minimizing the hazards posed by solid ammonium nitrate used in fertilizers is a key component of this advisory,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “In addition, the community emergency-planning and response information in this document provides a valuable tool that will help protect workers, first responders and communities throughout the country.”

Between 28 and 34 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated on April 17, 2013, after a fire engulfed the West Fertilizer Co., leaving 15 people dead, including 12 first responders, and about 300 injured.

The action supports the goals of President Barack Obama’s August 2013 executive order on improving chemical-facility safety and security. The advisory is aimed at facility owners and operators, emergency planners and first responders.

Obama established the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group by executive order in August 2013. The group is directed to improve operational coordination with state and local partners; enhance federal agency coordination and information sharing; modernize policies, regulations and standards; and work with stakeholders to identify best practices to improve chemical safety.

The Fertilizer Institute, an industry group that represents manufacturers and sellers, was still reviewing the guidelines at press time. The institute did voice support for the aim of the president’s executive order and for “reasonable” regulations on the secure handling of ammonium nitrate. “We agree that such steps can help advance safety and security and, ultimately, prevent tragedies like West from threatening other American communities—a goal all stakeholders share.”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Related Article:

Obama Orders Safety Review of Chemical Plants, SHRM Online Safety & Security, August 2013

Related Article:

Panel Declares OSHA’s Inaction on Industrial Chemical Safety ‘Unacceptable’, SHRM Online Safety & Security, July 2013

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