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New chemical advisory after deadly Texas explosion

Posted on by SST

The federal government updated recommendations for the safe storage of ammonium nitrate in late August.

The chemical advisory comes months after a deadly explosion in the town of West, Texas. Fifteen were killed and 200 were injured on April 15, 2013 after a fire broke out in the West Fertilizer Company facility. The fire triggered a massive explosion when bins of ammonium nitrate were ignited. The resultant explosion reportedly formed a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

The ammonium nitrate was stored in wood buildings that had no sprinkler system. These hazards, among several others, were noted in the Environmental Protection Agency's report.

The article listed numerous techniques to reduce hazards. Among them were recommendations for building design, containers, storage process and fire protection.

With regard to fire protection, the EPA advised the chemical should be stored in separate buildings, or separated by firewall from combustible materials. Storage areas should be equipped with fire detectors and a fire alarm system. Fire control devices, such as hoses and appropriate fire extinguisher technology, should be installed throughout the facility.

The report also recommended visits by fire servicemen to observe the conditions of storage and manner of handling of ammonium nitrate. Emergency responders should note the location, amount and packaging of AN, and, in conjunction with the facility managers, develop an emergency plan in case of fire or explosion.

Challenges in making plants follow advisory
Five facilities in Texas have denied entrance to fire marshal inspectors since the blast, the Associated Press reported. The five facilities contained amounts of fertilizer chemical similar to those at West Fertilizer Company. However, because Texas contains no state fire code, the state fire marshal lacks the power to make surprise inspections. The inspection was up to the discretion of the facilities who ultimately denied the marshals.

Similarly, the EPA report lacks any regulating power. Rather, the statements are intended "solely as guidance." As the report reads, "it cannot and does not impose legally binding requirements on the agencies, states, or the regulated community."

But Democratic state Rep. Joe Pickett does not believe the denial of safety inspectors poses an immediate threat. "I would say any resistance is more just fear of the unknown than anybody trying to hide or cover up some situation like West," he told AP. "I would believe if somebody thought they had something that was really dangerous, the only reason they would say no was to get it fixed that day."

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