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Panel Vets Ways To Boost Site Safety

Task Force: Report outlines federal effort to reduce risks posed by chemical production, storage facilities

by Glenn Hess
January 6, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 1

Credit: Ron Jenkins/MCT/Newscom
Investigators comb through the blast zone of the West Fertilizer facility that exploded in April last year.
Photo of two workers in hazmat suits picking through charred wreckage. In the background, the word “West” is legible on a battered sign.
Credit: Ron Jenkins/MCT/Newscom
Investigators comb through the blast zone of the West Fertilizer facility that exploded in April last year.

Responding to last year’s deadly explosion at a fertilizer depot in West, Texas, a federal task force says it has “identified options” for improving safety and security at U.S. chemical facilities. The group intends to unveil its initial policy recommendations early this year.

In its first status report, the Chemical Facility Safety & Security Working Group says it has taken “important steps towards substantial improvements in practices, operations, protocols, and policies to improve chemical facility safety and security.”

Prompted by the April 2013 ammonium nitrate blast at a depot run by West Fertilizer, President Barack Obama ordered a review of existing regulations and created the multiagency working group. Under the order, this status report was due in October, but that deadline was pushed back because of the government shutdown last year.

The panel says it is specifically considering options to improve the storage, handling, and sale of ammonium nitrate. The panel is also examining whether additional substances should be regulated under existing programs run by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

The working group says it is also weighing potential revisions to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) list of approximately 300 chemicals that is used to help determine whether a plant site is “high risk” and subject to regulation under the federal Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards.

In addition, the panel says it is assessing methods that federal and state agencies can use to identify chemical facilities that have “not met their regulatory obligation or are otherwise out of compliance with important safety and security requirements.” West Fertilizer did not tell DHS that it was storing large quantities of hazardous chemicals, as it was required to do.

The chemical industry is urging the Administration to focus on improving interagency collaboration rather than adding new requirements. “Comprehensive regulations that fully address chemical safety and security risk management are in place today,” says William J. Erny, senior director of security at the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group.



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