The EPA, OSHA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a chemical advisory that provides information on the hazards of ammonium nitrate (AN) storage, handling and management. AN, which is widely used in fertilizers, was the material believed responsible for the massive explosion in West, Texas in April 2013 that killed 15 people and leveled dozens of buildings.
The advisory provides lessons learned for facility owners and operators, emergency planners and first responders from recent incidents involving AN -- including the explosion in West, Texas -- in order to prevent similar incidents.
“Ammonium nitrate can be very dangerous, and it’s imperative that employers, workers and first responders all understand the hazards,” said OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels.
Understanding, minimizing hazards
Mathy Stanislaus of the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response division said that understanding and minimizing the hazards posed by solid ammonium nitrate is a key component of the advisory. “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.”
A joint statement by the three agencies said the advisory is part of an ongoing coordinated federal government effort to improve chemical safety with regards to AN and includes information on ensuring proper building design, storage containers and fire protection at their locations; learning from other accidents; and knowing and understanding the hazards that exist when developing their emergency response plans.
Executive order on chemical facility safety
The advisory stems from President Obama’s August 2013 executive order on “Improving Chemical Facility Safety and Security,” in which he directed the federal government 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.