Industry groups add ammonium nitrate, may develop third-party audits

Jun 7, 2013
by DTN

In response to the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. that killed 14 people and injured more than 200 others, two major associations announced last Monday they are including the handling of ammonium nitrate as part of standard of management practices for fertilizer operations.

The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) and the Fertilizer Institute have been developing a fertilizer code of practice that is expected to lead to uniform safety guidelines for handling, storage and distribution of fertilizer products throughout the industry. It also is expected to include third-party inspections to ensure compliance with those guidelines.

“Safety for our members, employees, and the communities in which they live and work is of paramount importance to everyone in the fertilizer business,” the groups said in a statement. “This initiative embodies that commitment.”

Michelle Hummel, vice president of marketing and communications for ARA, said the group had planned to develop a code of practice only for anhydrous ammonia starting in February, with discussion of “eventually” developing a similar code for ammonium nitrate. The April 17 explosion changed the industry’s perspective.

“The incident in West, TX, just expedited the industry’s decision to develop a code of practice for ammonium nitrate now,” she said.

The fertilizer groups said the goal of the initiative is to “create an inspection and auditing system that is transparent, practical, simple and efficient for retailers, and effective in improving safety.” The problem now is that there are too many different regulations from different agencies, which the fertilizer groups said “results in a confusing compliance puzzle that in some cases has duplications and in others has gaps.

“The initiative will provide a comprehensive collection of regulatory requirements and industry bestmanagement practices into one code of practice, with subparts for product-specific issues.” Currently, the National Fire Protection Association also has codes that establish storage and handling standards for these products.

At a May 16 press conference, state and federal authorities announced they had ended a month-long investigation of the West explosion and the cause of the disaster was “undetermined.” There were 150 tons of ammonium nitrate on the West Fertilizer Co. property and 28 to 34 tons exploded.

Hummel said ARA encouraged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to set a code for ammonium nitrate “several years ago.”

The establishment of a final rule on ammonium nitrate has been held up since 2008, she said, and is now slated for completion in 2013.

“Safety is our industry’s top priority, which is why we are voluntarily taking additional steps to try to prevent something like the tragedy in West, TX, from happening again,” Hummel said.

Texas system

Texas has what are called local emergency planning committees, or LEPCs. They are voluntary organizations established in emergency planning districts and designated by the State Emergency Response Commission, or SERC. Most counties have a single LEPC and some have multiple LEPCs.

Both were established to meet the requirements of the federal Emergency Planning and Community Rightto-Know Act, also known as the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act for emergency response planning. The LEPCs are required to receive annual Texas Tier II chemical inventory reports from facilities in their jurisdictions.

The LEPCs use the information to perform hazard assessments for their communities. The LEPCs are required to make information from the reports available to the public when requested.

Texas state Rep. Joseph Pickett, D-El Paso, who chairs the Texas House of Representatives’ Homeland Security and Public Safety committee, told DTN he believes tragedies like that in West, TX, could be avoided by improving current communications systems already in place.

Pickett said a system should have been in place that would have led to officials ‘red-flagging’ West Fertilizer Co. for inspection or other action before the tragedy.

Third-party audits

Industry workgroups are scheduled to meet this summer to hammer out details that are likely to include third-party audits. The groups said the third-party inspectors would base their audits on adherence to a code of practice.

“The results of the inspection will be made available to participating suppliers, so they know the audit results for the company they’re shipping to, and retailers will also be able to verify that their suppliers are participating,” the release said.

The ARA board of directors is expected to receive an initial update at the board’s fall meeting scheduled for Sept. 18.

A presentation and discussion for ARA member retailers will be provided at ARA’s annual conference in December, the release said.

The Agricultural Retailers Association is a nonprofit trade association representing the interests of retailers across the U.S. on legislative and regulatory issues on Capitol Hill.

The Fertilizer Institute represents the nation’s fertilizer industry including producers, wholesalers, retailers and trading firms.

Todd Neeley, DTN