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Tragic Plant Explosion Highlights Importance of Fertilizer Safety

Fertilizer Institute releases fact sheet on agricultural chemicals believed to be involved in deadly Wednesday blast

Published on: Apr 19, 2013

The Fertilizer Institute Thursday responded to the deadly April 17 explosion of the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, providing background on the agricultural fertilizers believed to be involved in the blast.

Ford West, TFI president, said the group's thoughts and prayers are with those in West, Texas, and his group would monitor the situation and update facts as needed.

TFI noted that it is a member of the Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response program, which supports training for emergency responders in 27 states, including Texas.

The group explained that nitrogen fertilizers, such as anhydrous ammonia, require specific standards for handling, application and storage.

Deadly West, Texas, blast highlights importance of safe handling and storage of farm fertilizers.
Deadly West, Texas, blast highlights importance of safe handling and storage of farm fertilizers.

Fertilizer is regulated at both the federal and state levels. Federal agencies of jurisdiction include the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and the Department of Transportation. At the state level, fertilizers are regulated by state department of agriculture office of fertilizer control.

Further, facilities storing anhydrous ammonia in quantities of 10,000 lbs. or more are required to have an Environmental Protection Agency approved Clean Air Act Risk Management Program plan to address accidental releases of ammonia.

Each facility covered under the act is required to conduct an offsite consequence analysis for a worst-case accident, a hazard assessment and an accident prevention program.

Facilities storing ammonium nitrate in quantities of 400 lbs. or more are regulated under the Department of Homeland Security. Additionally, The National Fire Protection Association code 490 sets standards for the storage of ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate is also regulated by the Department of Transportation, TFI said.

Though the incident is still under investigation, the representatives from the National Response Team of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have arrived on scene and will work to determine the cause of the blast.

ATF explains that the teams are each composed of veteran special agents who have post-blast and fire origin-and-cause expertise; forensic chemists; explosives enforcement officers; fire protection engineers; accelerant detection canines; explosives detection canines; intelligence support, computer forensic support and audit support. The teams work alongside state and local officers in reconstructing the scene, identifying the seat of the blast or origin of the fire, conducting interviews, and sifting through debris to obtain evidence related to the bombing/arson.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is also on scene.