In the wake of the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, three federal agencies have issued an advisory on how to store, handle and manage ammonium nitrate (AN) safely. The 19-page advisory from the EPA, OSHA and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) focuses on high density, solid AN pellets and beads (prills) used in fertilizers, and details lessons learned from previous AN disasters. The EPA’s website contains the full text of the advisory as well as information on EPA Risk Management Plans. 

The agencies said their advisory would be updated after more information about the Texas explosion—which remains under investigation—is obtained.  15 people, including eight firefighters, died in the West Fertilizer Co. disaster in April.

According to the advisory, one of the key lessons learned from previous disasters is that the conditions of storage and materials co-located with AN are crucial to its safety and stability. Another lesson learned, according to the advisory, is that adding heat to break up clumps of AN can trigger a general detonation. The advisory also provides recommendations for hazard reduction that cover: storage/process conditions to avoid; building design; storage scenarios such as in bags, drums and in bulk; and fire protection. Other sections of the document address community emergency planning, emergency response, information resources, references, and applicable statutes and regulations.

In August, President Obama issued a directive aimed at improving chemical safety coordination among federal agencies and their state and local partners; enhancing information sharing; modernizing policies, regulations and standards; and working with stakeholders to identify best practices. The directive established a Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which facilitated the development of the advisory.