CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso Calls for Regulatory Coverage of Reactive Chemicals


Off camera: With the wind blowing that way,
it should collapse. Narrator: April 17, 2013, a massive
ammonium nitrate explosion at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility
devastated the town of West, Texas. The blast killed at least 14
and caused hundreds of injuries. Moure-Eraso: The destruction I personally saw
in West, the obliteration of homes and schools and businesses by an ammonium nitrate
explosion was almost beyond imagination. Vitter: You know, when
horrible accidents like these occur, it’s imperative that they are
thoroughly and expeditiously investigated so we can all understand their causes and
ensure that future incidents are prevented. Narrator: Ammonium nitrate is a reactive chemical
that can undergo potentially hazardous chemical reactions if not managed properly such as
violently detonating when exposed to heat, shock or contamination
with other materials. During the CSB’s investigation, it discovered that
the West fertilizer facility stored approximately 60 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in combustible
wooden storage bins inside a combustible wooden building, did not have a sprinkler system in case of fire and
was located very close to homes, schools and hospitals. Boxer: The CSB considers the West explosion
to be among the most serious U.S. chemical incidents
affecting the public in many decades. That’s what they said,
so this should be a wakeup call for all of us, and we must take steps to ensure that
all such disasters never happen again. Narrator: The CSB found that ammonium nitrate storage
falls under a patchwork of U.S. standards and guidance which do not prohibit nor discourage
many of the conditions that likely contributed to
the disaster in West, Texas. Moure-Eraso: The fertilizer industry tells us
that U.S. sites commonly store ammonium nitrate still in wooden buildings and use wooden bins
even near homes, schools and other vulnerable facilities. This situation must be addressed. Narrator: OSHA’s explosive standard does not
prohibit wooden bins or wooden building construction and does not require sprinklers unless more
than 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate is present. And ammonium nitrate is not
one of the listed chemicals that triggers coverage under OSHA’s
process safety management standard. EPA’s risk management rules covered the toxic
anhydrous ammonia stored in tanks at the facility but not the tons of
potentially explosive ammonium nitrate. In 2002 the CSB issued a study on reactive
hazards such as uncontrolled chemical reactions with significant increases
in temperature or pressure. The board recommended that both OSHA and EPA expand
their standards to include reactive chemicals and hazards, but more than a decade later neither
agency has acted upon the recommendations. Moure-Eraso: Ammonium nitrate would
likely have been included if the EPA had adopted in our 2002 recommendation
to include in the list reactive chemicals under its risk
management program. And OSHA has not focused extensively on ammonium
nitrate storage and hadn’t inspected West since 1985. Narrator: Since the CSB’s 2002 study, deadly
reactive chemical accidents have continued to occur. On December 19, 2007,
an explosion and fire destroyed T2 Laboratories, a small chemical producer
in Jacksonville, Florida. The CSB found that the explosion
was due to a runaway chemical reaction that took place during
production of a gasoline additive. The blast killed four T2 employees
and injured 32 others. Buildings more than 1,500 feet away were damaged,
and debris from the explosion rocketed up to a mile. One worker was fatally burned, and
14 were injured on January 31, 2006, when a runaway chemical reaction
led to a powerful explosion at the Synthron Chemical Manufacturing
facility in Morganton, North Carolina. And 154 people were
treated for chemical exposure following a toxic release at MFG Chemical
in Dalton, Georgia, on April 12, 2004. As Dr. Moure-Eraso
testified in the Senate hearing, the CSB believes that it is past time for
OSHA and the EPA to regulate reactive chemicals including ammonium nitrate
under their process safety rules. More must be done to assure facilities
and communities with these hazards are safe.

2 comments

I find it absolutely incredible that in Texas there is no requirement for zoning, so a company can set up shop any where they please even near residential, schools & community buildings. This "business friendly" policy should be revised.
Hope the victims & their loved ones can overcome this tragedy & continue to make the best of life.
Regards from Israel.

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