Texas needs more rigorous safety rules for AN storage − fire marshal

14 April 2014 23:53 Source:ICIS News

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Texas should adopt more rigorous safety standards for facilities that store ammonium nitrate (AN), the Texas State Fire Marshal Office (SFMO) on Monday told the state House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

Ahead of the one year anniversary of the 17 April explosion at West Fertilizer, which killed 15 and injured another 200, lawmakers convened for the third time since the blast to consider implementing further oversight of chemical and fertilizer facilities.

State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy told legislators that there are a large number of facilities that store ammonium nitrate in Texas and that these locations need to make significant improvements in both safety and construction practices.

Part of the recommendations is that facilities similar to West Fertilizer should adopt national fire code standards that call for moving the ammonium nitrate stockpiles into fireproof bins, install sprinklers or retrofit their buildings to mitigate the potential for explosions and that the state potentially provide a three year time period for compliance.

“The adoption of best practices as described in the National Fire Protection Association reduces the probability of another explosion like the one we saw last year in West, Texas,” said Connealy.

While investigations into the deadly blast last April have not been completed, investigators have determined the fertilizer distributor had stored the ammonium nitrate that eventually erupted in wooden containers, which caught fire during the initial blaze.

Following the tragic incident, the SFMO over the past year has inspected most of the state’s 100 or so ammonium nitrate facilities on a voluntary basis. Connealy has said that about half the ammonium nitrate facilities were storing the chemical much in the same manner as was present at West Fertilizer.

The agency been trying to make a concerted effort to making sure there will not be a repeat of the accident, and a main part of this effort has been the agency’s on-going public meetings, which are emphasising the potential dangers of ammonium nitrate and how local communities and officials can be better prepared and possibly avoid future deadly accidents.

Hoping to provide the public with more information on ammonium nitrate, the SFMO in November launched an online map, which shows facilities in Texas which are either producing or holding ammonium nitrate in volumes of 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) or more.

Following the hearing, Committee Chairman State Representative Joe Pickett (El Paso, Democrat) said lawmakers are unlikely to impose more permitting on chemical plants. The El Paso Democrat instead suggested that more power could be given to state inspectors to prevent further accidents, namely allowing the fire marshal to assume inspection and enforcement authority in regards to ammonium nitrate.

He announced that he expects to draft legislation by the end of summer for the next legislative session in early 2015 that would address the matter but said it would not be a comprehensive fire code for Texas that he would offer to his fellow lawmakers.

By Mark Milam