Order to Tighten Chemical Safety After Blasts Issued

By Roger Runningen | August 1, 2013

President Barack Obama issued an executive order aimed at reducing risks that hazardous chemicals pose to workers and communities, citing the April fatal fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.

Explosions such as the blast that killed more than a dozen people are “tragic reminders that the handling and storage of chemicals present serious risks that must be addressed,” according to a White House fact sheet issued today. Obama attended memorial services for the community and its fallen.

Obama ordered federal agencies to examine new options to deal with “safe and secure storage” of ammonium nitrate, the chemical stored at the plant in West, Texas, that exploded, killing at least 14 people and causing $100 million in damage.

The Texas blast on April 17 sparked a national debate over the adequacy of chemical-safety laws and regulations and led to criticism of the Obama adminstration’s safety record. Five years after Congress mandated that sales of ammonium nitrate be tracked, rules to do that haven’t been issued by the federal government.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer on July 9 said the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have failed to do enough to prevent further risks to the public from ammonium nitrate.

Multi-Agency Effort

The Obama order “improving chemical facility safety” directs U.S. agencies to better coordinate operation and information sharing with states, update policies, regulations and standards and prompt the use of best management practices in handling hazardous chemicals, according to the fact sheet.

Obama’s order creates a multi-agency group, led by the secretaries of Homeland Security and Labor and the head of the EPA, to meet at least once a quarter to assess progress in developing safeguards. The group was directed to report to the president within nine months.

The explosion of the Adair Grain Inc. left a crater 93 feet (28 meters) wide by 10 feet (3 meters) deep and represents the deadliest U.S. industrial accident in three years. While investigators haven’t said what caused the blast, the plant was approved to store 270 tons of ammonium nitrate.

(Editors: Steve Geimann, Jon Morgan)

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