Explosive Fertilizer Needs Regulation, U.S. Board Finds

National regulations on the handling and storage of ammonium nitrate fertilizer are needed to avoid the type of massive explosion that last year killed 14 people in West, Texas, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board said.

The April 17 explosion was “preventable,” Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso told reporters today. The 40 tons to 60 tons of ammonium nitrate that ignited were stored in a wooden building and bins, rather than concrete, with no modern fire suppression equipment, he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration need to regulate fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate as an explosive, Moure-Eraso said. The EPA can use its authority to require safer blends and technologies, he said. Another 1,351 U.S. facilities store the material.

“This hazard exists in hundreds of locations across the United States,” Moure-Eraso said. “There is no substitute for an efficient regulatory system that ensures that all companies are operating to the same high standards.”

McLennan County, where the explosion occurred, didn’t have a fire code because Texas prohibits smaller counties from having one, Johnnie Banks, the board’s lead investigator, told reporters. The farm retailer also wasn’t included in the county’s emergency response plan, he said.

“The community clearly was not aware of the potential hazard,” Banks said.

The retailer was built in an open field in 1961 and land-use codes failed to keep pace as new homes, schools and other structures were built closer and closer, he said.

Volunteer firefighters such as the ones who died fighting the West fire also need mandatory response training, and all firefighters need to have access to accurate information on hazards in buildings to which they respond, Moure-Eraso said.

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