Regulation often scarce at small fertilizer plants

Posted: April 21, 2013 at 4:12 a.m.

There were no sprinklers. No firewalls. No water deluge systems. Safety inspections were rare at the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, that exploded and killed at least 14 people last week.

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Front Section, Pages 6 on 04/21/2013

EPA regualtes Arkansas business from their office in Dallas. ADEQ keeps up with local stuff. Federal OSHA has an office in Little Rock and are lucky to have 10 field inspectors at any given time. Those guys are supposed to keep up with over 40,000 businesses in the state and they cant' keep up with all of them.

Regulation is necessary, but it needs to be designed in such a way that smaller firms can afford to somehow comply. Compliance or not isn't the issue. What is the issue it that the most important standards, best practies, and safety issues need attention first.

EPA and OSHA both regulate anhydrous ammonia vigorously with Risk Management and Process Safety Management mandates. Those mandates are extremely expensive to compy with. Compliance with these complex programs can easily cost a large company hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and smaller ones nearly as much. It may have been a fatal financial distraction for this company.

Anhydrous ammonia is simply liquid ammonia without water. When released to the atmosphere outdoors it simply rises up into the air and dissipates unless there is wind to drive it downrange. Even then it is not hazardous unless it is released in a space where it can reach truely toxic levels or it's LEL or lower explosive limit (The LEL is 15% which is 10% of the actual levels required for explosion). Releasing it outdoors is more of a nusiance than anything esle. It is nearly impossible to reach a level that is actually dangerous to life and health in open air.

Yet that was the focus of EPA's invovlement with this company. While one cannot discount this tragedy, what is apparent is that EPA and OSHA need to regulate the important things. In this case ammonia was a distraction that surely financially distracted this company from other more important concerns.

We need a balance. Finger pointing and pontification by news and media outlets onlly create sensational claims without true substance. Government agencies are more concerned with political agendas based on whichever party is in power to further political aims. These agencies need to get to the basic work of actually helping industry learn and comply with well known safety practices rather than merely using violations to collect treasure and prove political points.

Much of the problem in this case was the methods and ways the government "helps" business and "protects" the public. Current methodology is largely ineffective, especially when it comes to smaller companies regulators are less interested in than larger ones that prove to be much easier targets. Taken together there just aren't enough regulators to even begin to keep an eye on every operation. A quantum change is needed in the way government does business if people are to be truely protected.

It appears this company was distracted by NH3 and it's compliance cost when the real lthreat was something else entirely.

Posted by: jeffieboy

April 21, 2013 at 2:13 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Coal mines, nuclear electricity plants, fertilizer factories, and others regularly have accidents.
I can't follow jeffieboy's apologia here, but a factory of any sort, much less one with combustible materials, that has no sprinklers?
He can't explain that away.

Posted by: Coralie

April 21, 2013 at 3:12 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

Cor: "I can't follow jeffieboy's apologia here...">>

Because it makes no sense.

Jeff: "In this case ammonia was a distraction that surely financially distracted this company from other more important concerns.">>


"(Reuters) - The fertilizer plant that exploded on Wednesday, obliterating part of a small Texas town and killing at least 14 people, had last year been storing 1,350 times the amount of ammonium nitrate that would normally trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)."

Fertilizer plants and depots must report to the DHS when they hold 400 lb (180 kg) or more of the substance. Filings this year with the Texas Department of State Health Services, which weren't shared with DHS, show the plant had 270 tons of it on hand last year."

Btw, 270 tons = 540,000 lbs.

That ammonia, just a distraction!

And then they put this enormous stockpile of bomb ingredients within blocks of an elementary school, high school, play ground, retirement home and apartment complex.

Posted by: fayfreethinker

April 21, 2013 at 4:36 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

You guys are idiots when it comes to the real world. If you had even the slightest idea of the "violations" all around your pontificating you would get sick. You might never leave whatever your den of fairy tales again!

I do funny stuff like check to see if the fire estinguishers at UA or anywhere are checked and up to date. Restaurants, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, hospitals...guess what? They mostly aren't.

Sprinkler systems? Good God. 90% are not checked or up to date. They haven't been tested or certified since they were installed even if that was 30 years ago. And lets not think about "grrand fathering". That is a free pass.

I remember when the esteemed fire marshall of Springdale cited a concrete comany for not having an ADA compliant fire extinguisher mounted on a level of the plant that required 50 feet of ladder climbing to get to.

ADA says it must be a certain height so it is wheelchair accessible. Now how in the heck is some crippled person in a wheel chair sujpposed to climg 50 feet of ladders in the first place?

You guys are way out of your league here. You have no idea what you are talking about and like most progressive liberal idiots have no connection to the real world. Better bail before you look more stupid than you already do.

Freaking hilarious!

Posted by: jeffieboy

April 21, 2013 at 8:46 p.m. ( | suggest removal )

>>I do funny stuff like check to see if the fire estinguishers at UA or anywhere are checked and up to date. Restaurants, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, hospitals...guess what? They mostly aren't<<

If you had an iota of connection to the "real world" you would know how and who maintains extinguishing systems and who is liable when they fail.

You are beneath contempt.

Posted by: cdawg

April 22, 2013 at 2:03 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

I know exactly who is and it depends on who you are so I'll give you a brief rundown from memory. There are at least four major entities invovled right off the top of my head. They are NFPA, OSHA, ADA, and EPA.

1. NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) dictates stanards for each type of extinguisher including spacing, installation, inspection requirements and a long list of other requirements. In simple terms hand held extinguishers must be inspected monthly by the user (simple visual inspection), anually by a qualified technician and also be hydrostatically tested every 5 years. Because the NFPA is a private organization and not a government body and has no authority other than as an independent group of "experts". NFPA Codes are normally adopted by state and local governments as they are updated through legislative process (e.g. a resolution is presented to the city council by the fire chief or other official and they vote to adopt it).

2. OSHA dictates in their standards that fire extingusihers must be inspected monthly in writing by the operator or owner and annually by a certified or licensed inspector. Some places hire an outside firm to do that, some go the simple route and give someone 15 minutes of training to conduct the monthly visual inspection. Additionally, specific people must be designated and trained in their use, and assigned to operate them in the company Emercgency Action Plans. Additionally employees must be trained on the chemicals used in fire extinguishers in accordance with the Hazard Communications Program. On top of that there is a crap load of stuff on asile widths, stairways, egress, and other things OSHA loves.

Note: Every employer, including farmers and business large and tiny are subject to all OHSA rules and regulations if they have at least one employee and must keep written records if they have 12 or more employees. That means if you hire a handy man and pay a wage you are an employer and subject to all of OSHA's rules.

3. ADA dictates that hand held fire extinguishers must be assessible to crippled people in wheelchairs. They specifiy the how they must be mounted.

4. EPA regulates the chemicals used and labeling of fire extinguishers that contain certain chemicals. They also deem certain fire extinguishing chemicals as dangerous to the environment and regulate them under the clean air act. No more cheap Halon folks. If you want a halon extinguisher you have to go to Mexico or somewhere like that to get it.

There is much, much more. There are materials standards for various parts and components regulated by other organizations and the list goes on. People make entire careers out of just the inspection and repair part of this stuff. It kinda goes with my assertion that there is nothing you can do that government doesn't have their mits all over.

Opps! I almost forgot the local fire department or fire marshall. They can add stuff, too.

Posted by: jeffieboy

April 22, 2013 at 3:19 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

Don't forget the lawyers and insurance companies. They can get you, too. If you don't do all the stuff the regulatory community dictates as an employer and have a loss or let someone get hurt they may assert that you have not exercised due diligence and best accepted practices in making an effort to exercise the degree of caution and effort required to protect persons or property and you can be held financially and criminally liable and/or an insurance company can deny any claim to restitution.

That my friend is just a tiny part of the real world.

Posted by: jeffieboy

April 22, 2013 at 3:36 a.m. ( | suggest removal )

When presented with the facts of the matter you fall down completely and irrevocably. Tuck in your tail "Dawg". You lost this round spectacularly!

Posted by: jeffieboy

April 22, 2013 at 10:20 p.m. ( | suggest removal )