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Chemical Working Group Issues Safety Update

chemA federal government working group set up in the wake of an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, in 2013 has released recommendations that agencies should consider new rules for the storage and handling of chemicals.

The Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which was established by Executive Order 13650, issued in response to the blast, has developed a preliminary list of options for improving chemical facility safety and security for further discussion and comment.

The report, titled Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, recommends that, among other recommendations, the federal government and its agencies:

  • issue an alert on inherently safer technologies, detailing concepts, principles and examples of such technologies
  • mandate chemical facilities to use safer chemicals or processes,
  • prioritize protection of the most vulnerable populations
  • modernize the OSHA Process Safety Management standard
  • consider whether improved safety standards are needed for the storage of ammonium nitrate

The 2013 explosion killed 15 people in the small central Texas town. The plant, which housed some 270 tons of ammonium nitrate, was located close to a nursing home, school and residential buildings, but had filed no contingency plan with the EPA for a major explosion or fire at the site. Its owners were cited with 24 serious safety violations for exposing workers to fire/explosion hazards of ammonium nitrate and chemical burn and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia storage.

In February, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute reached out to more than 7,000 agricultural retailers, distributers, producers and other facilities in the fertilizer industry to encourage safe storing and handling of ammonium nitrate.

Picture credit: Worker in protective uniform, mask, gloves and boots rolling barrel of chemicals via Shutterstock

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