GAO Review of Ammonium Nitrate Facilities: OSHA and EPA Provide “Limited Oversight” 

Damage to school from West, Texas explosion The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released this week a report on safety policies and procedures at U.S. chemical facilities, particularly those that deal with ammonium nitrate. Following the April 2013 explosion of the ammonium nitrate fertilizer plant in West, Texas, GAO has been examining the oversight of similar facilities to ensure that these chemicals are being handled and stored safely.

“This report addresses (1) how many facilities have ammonium nitrate in the United States, (2) how OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and EPA regulate and oversee facilities that have ammonium nitrate, and (3) what approaches selected other countries have adopted for regulating and overseeing facilities with ammonium nitrate.”

According to an AP (Associated Press) article published yesterday, the government currently has “no way of fully knowing which U.S. chemical facilities stock ammonium nitrate” due to gaps in monitoring and database maintenance. GAO found that the DHS database “captured only a fraction of the ammonium nitrate storage facilities in the U.S. The federal database shows that 1,345 facilities in 47 states store ammonium nitrate…but spot checks of similar state records found that the federal list missed as many as two-thirds of the storage sites.”

GAO concluded that OSHA and EPA “provide limited oversight of facilities that have ammonium nitrate.” While both agencies do enforce safety regulations that include provisions for ammonium nitrate, these regulations need to be updated and made more well-known within the fertilizer industry. Additionally, GAO recommends that ammonium nitrate facilities should be required to complete hazard assessments and that OSHA and EPA should complete more frequent inspections of these facilities.

“DHS, EPA, and OSHA agreed with GAO’s recommendations.”

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