Ammonium Nitrate Safety Guidelines Issued by U.S. Agencies

By Mark Drajem | September 3, 2013

The federal government established new guidelines for the handling and storage of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer ingredient and explosive blamed for a fatal blast in April at a depot in Texas.

An advisory issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies today said companies holding quantities of the product should ensure it is kept free from contamination from dust, seeds or oils, and stored in ways to keep it safe from fire. It also told emergency personnel to avoid getting close to fires near storage bins.

“If ammonium nitrate is stored safely or if alternatives are used, explosions could have been prevented in the past and more explosions could be prevented in the future,” Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said in a statement praising the EPA’s advisory.

Fire in the Adair Grain Inc. fertilizer depot in West, Texas, triggered an explosion of the ammonium nitrate stored there, federal investigators have concluded, killing 14 people.

Ammonium nitrate was also used by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City that killed 168, and is responsible for one of the country’s biggest industrial disasters, the explosion of two cargo ships in Texas City, Texas, in 1947.

The advisory issued today is not a federal regulation, and doesn’t impose legally binding requirements. Among the guidelines from EPA is that the compound should be stored in buildings with sprinkler systems and not in the same building with combustible grains, wood or other flammable materials.

In addition, firefighters who come upon a blaze near ammonium nitrate should evacuate if fire is engulfing the facility or they see a brown/orange smoke, according to the advisory.

(Editors: Jon Morgan, Don Frederick)

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