The West Fertilizer Accident: Road Map of AN and NH3 Regulations
On April 17, a massive explosion at the West Fertilizer Plant in the town of West, Texas, killed at least 15 people and injured more than 160 people. The impact of the blast was equivalent to a 2.1 earthquake and felt for miles, but for the ag retail industry the repercussions will resonate for years.
Although there is no indication that the blast was anything other than an industrial accident, authorities are treating the scene as if it was a criminal act. Many media reports try to claim that a lack of regulation of anhydrous ammonia (NH3) and ammonia nitrate (AN) is the problem, but until the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) establishes the root cause, it’s too dangerous to speculate. [At the time of this publication little information was available to determine the root cause of the explosion. West Fertilizer is not a member of ARA.]
Anhydrous ammonia and ammonia nitrate are heavily regulated by various federal and state agencies across multiple areas of expertise: terrorism (Department of Homeland Security), workplace safety (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), air quality (Environmental Protection Agency), highway safety (Department of Transportation). And, this doesn’t take into account voluntary consensus standards for products adopted by retailers created by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
ARA works closely with federal and state agencies to further educate and provide services to support its members in their quest to maintain regulatory compliance, a profitable business and help feed the world. The following sections of this article provide a road map of ammonia nitrate (AN) and anhydrous ammonia (NH3) regulations that ag retailers need to comply with.
OSHA: WORKPLACE SAFETY
OSHA ensures that the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are classified, and that information concerning the classified hazards is transmitted to employers and employees along with first responders. OSHA regulates the storage of AN and NH3 and requires emergency response plans, emergency response training and compliance with all OSHA hazardous communication standards.
Ag retailers are required to provide material safety data sheets (MSDSs or SDSs) and emergency response plans to first responders so they know how to handle the hazard. As many retailers know, SDSs are an important component of product stewardship and occupational safety and health. It provides workers and emergency personnel with procedures for handling or working with that substance in a safe manner (NH3 and AN are included). Information such as physical data (melting point, boiling point, flash point, etc.), toxicity, health effects, first aid, reactivity, storage, disposal, protective equipment and spill-handling procedures are condensed into a one to two page fact sheet.