The future inspection of all anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks in service in the U.S. was elevated as an issue when the U.S. Department of Transportation found a few dealer operations not in compliance with the special 2005 exemption earned by The Fertilizer Institute. That special permit required certified visual, metal thickness and pressure testing of NH3 tanks with missing or non-legible manufacturer identification data plates.



During the second half of 2008, DOT Office of Hazardous Materials Enforcement inspectors found violations as non-data-plated, illegibly-plated tanks were in use, and other tanks were not properly placarded.



"They (DOT officials) were most upset about the facilities where the operator knew about the special permit, knew they were in violation and just chose to ignore it, more so than with those who had minor issues in complying with the special permit," said Pam Guffain, TFI vice president of member services.



A DOT Safety Advisory was issued and passed along before the spring season. "TFI holds that special permit, and we made some extra special efforts to get the word out through state associations about the severity of the situation," Guffain explained. "Going into the spring season, we definitely didn't want an inspector to be sitting along side of the road and stop a nurse tank being towed down the road and find it out of compliance. We really stressed the severity of the situation."



She noted that those NH3 dealers who were found violating the special permit last year could be subject to more than fines, and could be charged with criminal actions. There are no excuses accepted for having non-plated or illegibly-plated tanks in service. Inspectors could be finding more non-compliance as this article is being written, but TFI and the state ag retailer associations put a huge effort into getting the word out.



The Transportation Safety Board wants all nurse tanks tested, and TFI has provided its recommendations on a practical program. The recommendations are similar to what has been the testing program since 2005 for illegible and non-plated tanks with some exceptions. Guffain provided the main exceptions.



"Under the current permit, tank owners are not allowed to do any welding on nurse tanks missing data plates, and in the petition we asked for welding under certain conditions as long as it was done by an R-stamp provider. We also asked that tanks with data plates not have to be thickness tested, only tanks without data plates, and we put in a provision asking for a phase-in such as 20 percent of the tanks being tested each year over a five-year period," Guffain said.



TFI is expecting a response to its recommendations from the DOT midway through this year, followed by rule making and time for comments. That means a rule isn't likely until 2010 at the earliest.



State Regulators Are Needed
Working with rule makers prior to regulations being issued is mandatory, but enforcement of rules is when the rubber meets the road.



Going into the spring season more than 9,000 Illinois-based nurse tanks had been inspected and pressure tested as part of the federally mandated tank inspection, although many of the tanks weren't required to be pressure tested, noted Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association (IFCA). Some retailers decided to have their whole fleet of tanks pressure tested. "I'm proud of our members for being so proactive," Payne said.



Illinois dealer safety compliance in working with NH3 is excellent in Payne's eyes, partly because the state Department of Agriculture enforces regulations consistently. "The state of Illinois has more than 800 ammonia facilities, and state inspectors are at each one at least once a year. They visually inspect every nurse tank, storage tank, the plumbing, piping and maintenance records," she said.



If something is not appropriate for storage or transfer of ammonia, then the equipment is red tagged as unusable until it is fixed. Once the fix occurs, an agriculture department re-inspection is required before the machinery can be put back into use.



Payne said that no matter how much retailers dislike regulations, if it wasn't for state regulators then full compliance with rules wouldn't occur in Illinois or any other state. "You have to have a good state regulatory program to make sure things get done. The reason that our compliance is so good in Illinois is because our members know that every year the department of ag is going to be there, and if they don't have everything in order, they aren't going to be able to have those nurse tanks in service (or have uninterrupted ammonia sales).



"Regulations are only as good as your enforcement. You can pass all the laws you want, but unless you have people out there enforcing them, it isn't going to happen. We have always been supportive of our department of ag even though it sometimes involves fees that our industry pays, but the department sets the stewardship bar that everyone has to live by. With ammonia, we have to treat that product with the respect that it deserves."



Resources for Helping Farmers
The IFCA is confident its member retailers are doing the right thing, and it has pressed forward in making sure that farmers are also doing the right thing.



"We developed an anhydrous ammonia compliance brochure specifically for farmers," Payne, said. "We have seen more farmers buy ammonia storage tanks and, therefore, more nurse tanks. And they don't necessarily have very good resources for help other than us, and while they aren't going to be members of IFCA, we are going to try and provide them with compliance services because it is important. It doesn't matter who has an ammonia release, the whole industry gets the black eye no matter whether it is a farmer or someone at the retail operation."



The brochure was mailed to the state Department of Agriculture list of known farmer-operated NH3 facilities. Additionally, a new video was produced by IFCA with funding assistance from the Illinois Fertilizer Research and Education Council. This video stresses the proper safety procedures that should be followed in transporting and working around NH3. It is posted on the IFCA Web site.
The video is nothing as extensive as the training required by retailer employees working with NH3. Those employees have to complete a certified safety course at least every third year. In Illinois, those are typically sponsored by IFCA and taught by IFCA personnel and the Illinois Department of Agriculture.



Payne said the video is a reminder for everyone to help assure that farmers are doing things right. "The majority of nurse tank accidents we see are because farmers towed the nurse tank too fast, didn't put the clip in the hitch pin, used the wrong size hitch pin or didn't attach the safety chain to the tool bar. If something breaks going across the field and the hose from the tank gets stretched, then you have a bad situation. It happens too often."



Illinois is a state where farmer-owned NH3 facilities and equipment have to be inspected similar to dealer operations, and it surprises some farmers how many regulations they have to follow, Payne said. It surprises them that they need to keep NH3 facilities and nurse tanks secure.



The agriculture department also issues warnings such as noted here. "It is recommended that a farmer check with his insurance company to see what new liabilities he is exposing himself to by owning anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks. The farmer might also want to consider if having anhydrous ammonia nurse tanks on his farm might increase the likelihood of having his farm be a target for thieves manufacturing methamphetamine."



The compliance by both dealers and farmers is not uniform from one state to the other as shown by the federal DOT inspection and warning about non-compliance to the nurse tank inspection and testing. More uniformity definitely is a goal.