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Not only that, they put the blame squarely on Federal agencies. Because the mishmash of regulations -- and the lack of funding for inspections and enforcement that have been hallmarks of the rush to drown government in the bathtub -- promotes unsafe conditions, accidents like the one in West, Texas are far likelier in the US than other countries.

The UK, for example, forbids storing ammonium nitrate in wooden bins.

The BATFE, perhaps inspired by the Murrah Building bomb, regulates the compound as an explosive.
But the fertilizer industry has kept such regulations from being coordinated across agencies or raised to comport with international standards. Texas is not alone in facing hazards from this fertilizer formulation.Every big-ag state in the country has some variant of this stuff, which provides the boom in AMFO, stored -- usually unsafely -- in piles, buildings, tanks, or railcars.

As the Fort Worth Star Telegram article notes:

“The safety of ammonium nitrate fertilizer storage falls under a patchwork of U.S. regulatory standards and guidance – a patchwork that has many large holes,” according to the report presented to the panel by Rafael Moure-Eraso, the board’s chairman.

The board, which has no regulatory authority, recommended in 2002 that the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration add reactive chemicals such as ammonium nitrate to the list of substances they regulate. That never happened, and the risk management plan that the plant in West was required by federal law to fill out focused exclusively on the potential for a leak of anhydrous ammonia, another fertilizer chemical it stored and sold.

Not only that ....

but those same poorly-enforced regulations and unmotivated agency heads are creating those same unsafe conditions in other towns, and other states, around the US. The Mother Jones article finds it crucial, in the US, for citrus.

It didn't take long in the aftermath of April's explosion in West, Texas, for the problems with the fertilizer industry to come into focus. Inspections are virtually nonexistent; regulatory agencies don't talk to each other; and there's no such thing as a buffer zone when it comes to constructing plants and storage facilities in populated areas.

Lost in the fallout, though, is a damning fact: Fertilizer doesn't have to be explosive. Pure ammonium nitrate like the kind that caused the West disaster is already banned in the United Kingdom, Germany, Colombia, the Philippines, and China, due to its explosive risk; Australia's largest fertilizer manufacturer discontinued the use of the compound after it was used in the 2002 Bali hotel bombing. And the Department of Defense has pressured fertilizer manufacturers overseas to neutralize their own products, warning that anything less constitutes a threat to American personnel. But in the United States, with the backing of the chemical industry, explosive ammonium nitrate has held onto a small but powerful share of the market as the fertilizer of choice for citrus growers.

It gets spread on cotton, soybeans, and a host of other big-ag crops all over the US. Ironically, one of the people who fought to change this -- and lost -- is familiar to Gulf Watch members, and maybe other Kossacks whose memories stretch back to the Deepwater Horizon disaster's aftermath.
In the late 1960s, a chemist from Kansas, Charles Saffer, and an explosives engineer, Samuel Porter, began working in their spare-time to develop an antidote to the kind of destructive devices Porter had witnessed while stationed in Somalia with the US military. Porter and Saffer secured a patent for noncombustible fertilizer that involves diluting ammonium nitrate with diammonium phosphate. Because diammonium phosphate is itself used as fertilizer, the new compound was—in theory—still an effective agricultural compound. The duo enlisted a partner, Robert Colbert, and found a lawyer: a young Louisiana attorney named Billy Tauzin.

"I remember we testified and even said that one day someone is going to take this stuff and put it in a truck and blow it up," Tauzin recalls. But it was dead on arrival in every case. "The chemical association killed it."


What's Deepwater Horizon got to do with it? The Chemical Safety Board investigated that too. The Star-Telegram's report says the CSB, which has zero regulatory authority, investigates major industrial and chemical accidents -- like several university science building explosions, including one at my alma mater -- to determine how to prevent recurrences.
The Chemical Safety Board investigates major industrial and chemical accidents, including the 2012 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Its goal is to make recommendations that would help avoid similar incidents.

Federal agencies must “review and improve the comprehensive safety oversight of ammonium nitrate fertilizer distribution. The time for that effort is now,” the CSB concludes.

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/...

Barbara Boxer has promised to ride harder herd on the issue, but the Chemical Safety Board's analysis suggests that what's needed here are more inspectors spending more time in the field and more plants or repositories being shut down as unsafe, rather than more austerity.
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