Following more than two years of investigation, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released its final report and safety recommendations resulting from the fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Company.

On April 17, 2013, this tragic event took the lives of 12 emergency responders and three individuals, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. ARA appreciates the hard work and commitment of the CSB to conduct an extensive investigation and develop a comprehensive report, which is dedicated to those who lost their lives in this disaster.

"Agricultural retailers remain committed to the safety and security of their employees and the communities where they operate," said Daren Coppock, ARA President and CEO. "Since the accident, ARA has worked closely with the CSB and other key federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, to determine the cause of the detonation and take prudent steps to prevent future accidents."

In 2014, ARA, in cooperation with The Fertilizer Institute, founded ResponsibleAg, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting agribusinesses with federal environmental, health, safety and security compliance regarding the safe handling and storage of fertilizer products, such as fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate (FGAN).

The goal of this initiative is improving safety and security associated with storage and handling of fertilizer products, supporting compliance with federal regulations, demonstrating accountability and transparency and providing for the safety of employees, customers and communities while continuing to serve the vital needs of the agricultural community for crop nutrients.

We appreciate the CSB's recognition of the important role this type of industry product stewardship program can provide to ensure the proper storage and handling of potentially hazardous materials such as FGAN.

The CSB report includes a number of policy recommendations for consideration by several federal agencies (primarily EPA and OSHA). Although ARA generally agrees with several of the recommendations, it cannot support a number of other recommendations that are either unsubstantiated conclusions or inappropriate for agricultural retail facilities.

EPA:

  • CSB recommends that a guidance document on Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) requirements be issued annually to State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) and Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs). This guidance document would include the proper use of Tier 1 and Tier 2 inventory reports and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs), as well as proper safety training, practice drills and emergency planning procedures.
  • CSB recommends the development of a general guidance document on the agricultural exemption under EPCRA Section 311(e)(5) and its associated regulation, 40 CFR 370.13(c)(3), to clarify that fertilizer facilities that store or blend fertilizer are covered under EPCRA. The clarification and intention should be communicated to the fertilizer industry.

ARA agrees with these recommendations and has been working with senior EPA officials to address this very issue. Increased education and training, along with drills involving local facilities and the area first responders is necessary to foster strong LEPCs in rural areas.

ARA also supports the statutory elimination of the agricultural exemption under EPCRA Section 311(e)(5), which has only led to confusion among facilities on what fertilizer products are required to be reported to the LEPCs and local responders.

  • CSB also recommends EPA add FGAN to the list of regulated substances under the Risk Management Program (RMP).

ARA disagrees with this recommendation because RMP is a Clean Air Act program created to address the release of toxic substances into the air. A pressurized liquid nitrogen fertilizer such as anhydrous ammonia (NH3) is properly included under RMP as a toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) chemical. FGAN is a dry, solid nitrogen fertilizer product. It does not pose an air release hazard, which is the primary focus of EPA's RMP regulations.

FGAN is a stable chemical substance when stored and handled appropriately. Its behavior is known, understood, and predictable, and it does not present a hazard to workers or the public when managed properly in accordance with existing regulatory requirements and good industry practices as outlined in the "SAFETY AND SECURITY GUIDELINES FOR THE STORAGE AND TRANSPORTATION OF FERTILIZER GRADE AMMONIUM NITRATE AT FERTILIZER RETAIL FACILITIES" developed jointly by TFI and ARA.

OSHA:

  • CSB recommends the development of a Regional Emphasis Program for Section (i) of the Explosives and Blasting Agent standard, 29 CFR 1910.109(i), in appropriate regions (such as Regions IV, VI, and VII) where FGAN facilities similar to the West Fertilizer Company facility are prevalent. Establish a minimum number of emphasis program inspections per region for each fiscal year. Work with regional offices to communicate information about the emphasis program to potential inspection recipients.
  • CSB recommends OSHA take one of the following actions: Add FGAN to the Process Safety Management (PSM) standard, OR revise and update the Explosives and Blasting Agents standard, 29 CFR 1910.109, to ensure that the title, scope, or both make(s) clear that the standard applies to facilities that store bulk quantities of FGAN.

ARA believes a Regional Emphasis Program for FGAN may be appropriate in certain regions where the product is more prevalently used. OSHA could work through the Fertilizer Safety & Health Partners Alliance, which ARA was instrumental in creating, to communicate information about the program to agricultural retail facilities that store and handle FGAN.

In regards to the second recommendation, ARA believes OSHA should work with industry on updating existing FGAN regulations under 29 CFR 1910.109(i). OSHA has existing authority to regulate the storage and handling of FGAN under 1910.109(i) and anhydrous ammonia under 1910.111.

Adding FGAN to the list of products covered by the PSM standards (1910.119) would be inappropriate, as these regulations are intended for manufacturing facilities. As pointed out in the CSB report, like most agricultural facilities, West Fertilizer did not manufacture products on-site. It was a distribution center for farm supplies to local farms and ranches. Including FGAN in PSM would only lead to more complicated and expensive federal regulations without addressing the primary causes of the tragic accident.

"ARA appreciates CSB's thorough investigation and analysis, as well as its recognition and support of fertilizer industry efforts to improve and promote worker and community safety and security," said Coppock. "Although we support several of the recommendations offered in the report, the wholesale imposition of PSM on agricultural retail facilities, or applying RMP to products it wasn't designed to regulate is not an appropriate course of action. It would only increase the regulatory burden and associated costs without enhancing worker or community safety. The best use of limited agency resources is to focus on updating existing regulations under 29 CFR 1910.109(i) and provide additional support for LEPCs."