Federal Agencies Issue Ammonium Nitrate Advisory

The guidance document recommends equipping AN storage areas with automatic fire sprinklers and not storing more than 2,500 tons of bagged AN without such a system.

EPA, OSHA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued an advisory document Aug. 30 with recommendations for storing and handling ammonium nitrate (AN), as well as responding to fires involving the chemical. The advisory is intended for facility owners/operators, emergency planners, and first responders, and it responds to President Obama's August 2013 executive order to improve federal oversight of chemical facilities in the wake of the West, Texas, explosion.

The president established the Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, and members of the group developed the advisory.

"Understanding and minimizing the hazards posed by solid ammonium nitrate used in fertilizers is a key component of this advisory," said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. "In addition, the community emergency planning and response information in this document provides a valuable tool that will help protect workers, first responders, and communities throughout the country."

For example, the document says when responding to a fire at a facility where AN is stored, firefighters should first consider whether they "can safety fight the fire or whether they should just let it burn, move to a safe location, and focus on evacuating nearby residents and preventing further safety issues for the surrounding community." It says they should not fight an AN fire, and everyone including firefighters should evacuate to a safe distance, if they see the fire is judged to be out of control, it is engulfing the AN, brown/orange smoke is visible (indicating the presence of toxic nitrogen dioxide), or there is a rapid increase in the amount or intensity of smoke or fire in the area where AN is stored.

"Ammonium nitrate can be very dangerous, and it's imperative that employers, workers, and first responders all understand the hazards," said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "With this understanding, together they can control these hazards and save lives and limbs."

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