Texas
7:24 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Texas Agriculture Group Wants Tighter Controls on Ammonium Nitrate

An apartment complex near the West Fertilizer Plant was destroyed in an explosion April 2013. State lawmakers are considering ways to increase safety at facilities storing ammonium nitrate.
Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

A Texas agriculture industry group is calling for more stringent reporting by people who possess the fertilizer ammonium nitrate. The Texas Ag Industries Association (TAIA) wants people with fewer than 10,000 pounds of the chemical to disclose to state officials how much they're storing and where.

"Even if you have a hundred pounds, you ought to be telling them that you [have it]. You can do a lot of damage with a hundred pounds of ammonium nitrate," TAIA president Donny Dippel told a panel of state senators today. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security held a hearing on ammonium nitrate safety in the wake of last year's fertilizer plant explosion in West that killed 15 people. 

Right now, facilities storing more than 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate have to file what’s known as a Tier II Report, explaining what they have and where it’s stored. The reporting was established by the federal government, but data is collected by the Texas Department of State Health Services. DSHS counts 194 sites in Texas storing more than 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate. 

But the DSHS official who oversees the program says facilities self-report what they held the previous year, and the agency has limited enforcement authority. 

"The authority is only if they fail to report or incorrectly report their holdings," DSHS assistant commissioner Kathryn Perkins told the panel of state senators. "And we typically do not penalize facilities. The focus in ensuring that that correct report is sent in."

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board's preliminary findings on the West explosion say it could have been prevented if it weren't for the "inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it."