CSB expects West explosion investigation completed by spring 2014

21 November 2013 19:07 Source:ICIS News

TAMPA (ICIS)--The Chemical Safety Board's (CSB) investigation into the West Fertilizer explosion is expected to be finalised by spring 2014, the US agency said on Thursday.

The investigation into the 17 April explosion in West, Texas, is currently focused on several key investigation issues and the preparation of recommendations in order to avoid a repeat of the lethal accident, CSB chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said at The Fertilizer Institute's 2013 Fertilizer Outlook and Technology Conference in Tampa, Florida.

“Our investigation has required some time. It is not an easy investigation, but we are expected to have the results in about six months,” said Moure-Eraso.

The massive blast killed 15, injured approximately 200 and caused over $100m (€75m) in damages when ammonium nitrate (AN) stored at the facility caught fire and erupted. It destroyed 150 buildings and 77 homes, as well as severely damaged three local schools in the small farming community in central Texas.

“The explosion basically destroyed half of the town of West, Texas,” Moure-Eraso said. “The damages have been estimated by the mayor and officials in Texas as being in excessive of $100m.”

He said the CSB is focused on investigating the causalities of the massive blast, zoning regulations, the role ammonium nitrate played in the eruption, as well as the absence of regulatory oversight. Other factors being reviewed is the location of the distribution facility and inappropriate construction materials, specifically those used for the storage of the fertilizer product.

Moure-Eraso said once that phase is finished the next stage will be for the CSB to develop models of the blast, analyse all collected data and issue recommendations to federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The CSB is anticipating to recommend that the EPA revise its risk management program to include self-reactive chemicals like ammonium nitrate. In regards to OSHA, the agency would like to see it rework its regulations to not allow materials that could become combustible as storage containers, such as the wooden bins commonly used in retail sites and which were present at the West Fertilizer location.

One possible solution that is being weighed Moure-Eraso said is a requirement that these types of facilities contain well-developed sprinkler systems that would in essence flood any material that was to ignite and effectively extinguish any potential for further fire or eruption.

“When we say sprinkler system we mean a way of flooding a particular fire of AN,” Moure-Eraso said. “If you were able to flood it you could avoid an explosion. We would like OSHA to address that.”  

He expects that the agency will conduct a stakeholders meeting sometime early next year. The meeting was originally scheduled for this fall in West, Texas but was postponed as a result of the temporary governmental shutdown.

When the agency’s report is finalised it will be presented at a public meeting.  

Previewing the expected advisories, Moure-Eraso said that for Texas it would most likely contain a recommendation that the state establish enforceable fire codes for facilities that are located within areas that contain less than 250,000 residents. Currently, the state does not have a system for communities with populations below that threshold.

On a national level the CSB wants to see the creation of zoning rules that would establish appropriate distances from residential areas and facilities that contain potentially explosive materials like ammonium nitrate.

($1 = €0.75)

By Mark Milam