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Safety

Texas Moves To Tighten State’s Ammonium Nitrate Storage Requirements

Regulation: Legislation aims to prevent accidents at fertilizer facilities

by Glenn Hess
May 6, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 19

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Credit: CSB
An April 2013 explosion at a fertilizer storage depot devastated West, Texas.

The Texas Legislature appears to be headed toward passage of the first legislation to tighten the state’s regulation of ammonium nitrate since a massive and deadly explosion at a fertilizer storage facility near Waco two years ago.

The Texas House of Representatives gave preliminary approval on May 1 to legislation (H.B. 942) that would strengthen rules for storing ammonium nitrate, a compound that farmers use as fertilizer. It is considered safe when stored properly but can explode at high temperatures or when it reacts with other substances.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kyle Kacal, a Republican whose district includes the town of West, where the blast on April 17, 2013, killed 15 and injured more than 200. Investigators determined that ammonium nitrate detonated after a fire at the West Fertilizer Co. engulfed a warehouse that stored approximately 30 tons of the chemical in wooden bins.

The legislation would give local fire marshals the authority to inspect facilities and order owners to make changes if any dangerous conditions are found that could cause a fire or explosion. The proposal would require that ammonium nitrate be stored at least 30 feet away from combustible materials.

In addition, the bill would require that facilities report the storage of hazardous chemicals to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which would make this information available to the public.

Before it becomes law, the measure must get a final vote in the House, go to the state Senate for consideration, and be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for his signature. The Texas Legislature, which meets for only 140 days every two years, is scheduled to adjourn on June 1.

“With a month still left in session, there’s plenty of time to make it to final passage,” says Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, an advocacy organization. “As long as there isn’t some new industry opposition, I’m optimistic that it will ultimately become law in Texas.”

Several other state legislative proposals—including one that would require companies storing ammonium nitrate to carry liability insurance—have stalled because of concerns raised by agribusiness.

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