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US agencies issue ammonium nitrate advisory

02 September 2013

US government agencies have established new guidelines for the safe handling and storage of ammonium nitrate, the fertiliser ingredient and explosive blamed for the fatal blast in April at a storage depot in West, Texas. The guidelines are not a federal regulation and do not impose legally binding requirements. 

After the explosion at West, Texas - Photo: CSB
After the explosion at West, Texas - Photo: CSB

The advisory, issued on August 30 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), said companies holding quantities of the product should ensure it is isolated from fire and kept free from contamination.

Among the guidelines are recommendations that the compound should be stored in buildings with sprinkler systems and not in the same building with combustible grains, wood or other flammable materials. In addition, firefighters who come upon a blaze near ammonium nitrate should evacuate if fire is engulfing the facility or they see a brown/orange smoke, according to the advisory.

Fire in the Adair Grain fertiliser depot in West, Texas, triggered an explosion of the ammonium nitrate stored there, federal investigators have concluded, killing 14 people.

According to the Texas State Fire Marshal, five facilities in the state with large quantities of ammonium nitrate have refused inspection since the blast at West. A railway operator that hauls hazardous materials across Texas was also said to have rebuffed a state request to share data.

AP said the Fire Marshall’s office sought to inspect about 150 facilities that keep more than 10,000 pounds of the potentially volatile chemical, and around 60 inspections are complete but a small number denied access to inspectors.

There is no state fire code in Texas and the state Fire Marshal's office lacks the power to make unannounced inspections of local businesses or compel facilities to open their doors.

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