| WASHINGTON, June 27
WASHINGTON, June 27 The independent U.S. agency
that investigates major chemical accidents said on Thursday that
inadequate regulatory standards contributed to the massive
fertilizer plant explosion that killed 14 people and leveled
parts of the town of West, Texas.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on the Environment and
Public Works, Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical
Safety Board, said the safekeeping of ammonium nitrate
fertilizer falls under regulations that add up to "a patchwork
that has many large holes."
The CSB issued 18 preliminary findings gleaned from its
inquiry into the massive West explosion.
It found that the explosion resulted from an intense fire in
a wooden warehouse building that led to the detonation of some
30 tons of ammonium nitrate (AN) stored inside, in wooden bins.
"Combustible wooden buildings and storage bins are
permitted for storing ammonium nitrate across the United States
- exposing AN to the threat of fire," Moure-Eraso said.
"Sprinklers are generally not required unless very large
quantities of AN are being stored or fire authorities order
sprinklers to be installed," he said.
The CSB also found that Texas has not adopted a statewide
fire code and that state law prohibits most small, rural
counties from doing so.
The explosion at the West Fertilizer Co plant on April 17
killed 14 people including firefighters and others who responded
to the fire, and injured about 200 other people.
Concerns about standards for ammonium nitrate dominated the
hearing, which also touched on a blast at a chemical plant in
Geismar, Louisiana, this month.
Ammonium nitrate was not on one of the lists that would have
triggered the Process Safety Management or Risk Management
programs, which are designed to prevent catastrophic incidents
or off-site damage in the event of an accident.
Committee chair Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat,
expressed frustration that more action had not been taken years
ago taken to prevent catastrophes.
"Ammonium nitrate would likely have been included, if the
Environmental Protection Agency had adopted our 2002
recommendation," Boxer said.
Boxer referred to recommendations from the CSB in 2002 that
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the EPA
"expand their standards to include reactive chemicals and
Sam Mannan, a chemical engineering specialist at Texas A&M
University, testified that adhering to a standard set by the
Occupational Health and Safety Administration, requiring
ammonium nitrate to be stored in a separate building or
separated by a firewall from certain organic materials, "might
have helped in preventing the explosion."
It is unknown whether the West Fertilizer warehouse had
firewalls, Mannan said.
Find the CSB's preliminary findings here: here
(Reporting by Matt Haldane; Editing by Ros Krasny and Jim