Chemical regulations under scrutiny after fertilizer plant blast

Chemical regulations under scrutiny after fertilizer plant blast

In April, a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15 people and flattened hundreds of buildings. Since the fatal explosion, investigators and regulators have been sorting through the rubble. Although their investigation is not complete, the investigation so far has prompted calls for new regulations into chemical plants.

The federal government is now looking for new ways to make sure that ammonium nitrate - the chemical blamed for the deadly blast - is safely stored. As the fatal explosion showed, these chemicals pose a workplace safety issue for employees and a premises liability matter for others as well.

A U.S. Senate committee recently received a report showing that the standards used to regulate fertilizer chemicals were decades old. Storage of ammonium nitrate is regulated by a patchwork of standards, and, according to the report, the patchwork "has many large holes."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had not inspected the plant in West, Texas, since 1985. Without inspections, the agency had no way of knowing whether the plant met its requirement that ammonium nitrate be stored separately from other combustibles and that the room it is stored in be able to withstand fire for up to an hour.

The U.S. president recently signed an executive order that requires federal agencies to find ways to make sure ammonium nitrate is safely stored and to determine whether additional chemicals should be covered under federal regulations.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the explosion continues.

Source: The Associated Press, "Obama orders review of chemical plant rules," Julie Pace, Aug. 1, 2013

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