Frustrated by the lack of federal regulatory action in the wake of the April 17 West, Texas chemical factory explosion, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a new video to illustrate the scope of the hazard.
"It's past time"
“The CSB believes it’s past time for OSHA and EPA to regulate reactive hazards – including ammonium nitrate – under their process safety rules,” says the CSB. “Reactive chemicals, like ammonium nitrate, can undergo potentially hazardous chemical reactions, such as violently detonating, if not managed properly.”
Wooden storage bins, no sprinkler systems
The CSB has determined that ammonium nitrate storage falls under a patchwork of U.S. standards and guidance, which does not prohibit many of the conditions found at the West facility. These include the use of combustible wooden storage bins and buildings and a lack of sprinkler systems in case of fire.
CSB Chairperson Moure-Eraso said; “The fertilizer industry tells us that U.S. sites commonly store ammonium nitrate in wooden buildings and bins – even near homes, schools or other vulnerable facilities. This situation must be addressed.”
The massive ammonium nitrate explosion that killed at least 14 people and injured hundreds of others in the town of West was only one incident used in the video to support the call for regulatory reform.
The video includes testimony from Moure-Eraso during a June, 2013 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “The destruction I personally saw at West – the obliteration of homes, schools and businesses by an ammonium nitrate explosion – was almost beyond imagination,” he said.
The safety message goes on to describe other serious reactive chemical accidents investigated by the CSB since its 2002 study. These include a December 19, 2007, explosion and fire at T2 Laboratories in Jacksonville, Florida; a January 31, 2006, explosion at the Synthron chemical manufacturing facility in Morganton, North Carolina; and an April 12, 2004, toxic release at MFG Chemical in Dalton, Georgia.
Urging regulations since 2002
CSB has been urging OSHA and the EPA to expand their standards to include reactive chemicals and hazards since a 2002 study, but to date neither agency has acted on the recommendations.
During the Senate hearing, Chairman Moure-Eraso said, “Ammonium nitrate would likely have been included, if the EPA had adopted our 2002 recommendation to cover reactive chemicals under its Risk Management Program. And OSHA has not focused extensively on ammonium nitrate storage and hadn’t inspected West since 1985.”
The safety message can be viewed on CSB.gov, the CSB’s safety message channel on YouTube, www.youtube.com/safetymessages, and the CSB’s Facebook page for the West explosion, www.facebook.com/westexplosion.