No More Plant Explosions: Alter the Clean Air Act

Target: Barry Breen, deputy assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Goal: Adopt strict safety standards for ammonium nitrate storage

In April 2013, a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas killed at least 12 people, shook the town like an earthquake, destroyed buildings, and blasted windows. The explosion was likely caused by ammonium nitrate stored at the plant. The EPA could have prevented this catastrophe by issuing tougher rules for ammonium nitrate storage. Urge the agency to adopt these standards immediately to avoid another tragedy.

About 100,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate were stored at a wooden building without fire sprinklers. Along with the chemicals the building also contained “significant quantities” of combustible corn and milo seeds, according to officials. Since ammonium nitrate is a potentially explosive material, it should be stored in a facility that is constructed from unburnable materials like bricks, steel or concrete. Unfortunately, there are no such regulations regarding ammonium nitrate in the US. The EPA has the power to change that. The first step would be to classify reactive chemicals as “extremely hazardous” in the General Duties clause of Clean Air Act, as the Chemical Safety Board recommended the EPA do over ten years ago.

At a recent public hearing at the Environment and Public Works Committee chaired by Barbara Boxer, senator from California, Barry Breen, the deputy administrator of the EPA responsible for emergency response, said that the agency still needs “to understand the issue better”, although earlier in his testimony he said that the EPA in December 1997 had issued a warning that an ammonium nitrate fire in an enclosed space could lead to an explosion.

Tell Mr. Breen that a simple warning is not sufficient. There are thousands of facilities handling such deadly chemicals in the US. According to the Dallas Morning News, there are at least 74 sites that contain large stores of potentially explosive ammonium nitrate in Texas alone. The EPA has to take responsibility for the tragedy in West, Texas and take immediate measures so that something like this does not happen again. Sign below if you agree.


Dear Mr. Breen,

The explosion at the West, Texas plant could have been avoided if the EPA had issued proper regulations regarding ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive material. As Barbara Boxer at a recent hearing pointed out, there are thousands of facilities holding such deadly chemicals in the US, and at least 74 sites in Texas alone. The warning that the EPA issued in December 1997 that ammonium nitrate fire in an enclosed space could lead to an explosion does not suffice. Explosions that kill people and destroy property can be avoided only with swift action.

In the U.K. and the state of Western Australia ammonium nitrate must be stored in a facility that is “constructed from materials that will not burn, such as concrete, bricks or steel.” This is common sense regulation that will save lives and health of residents who live close to storage sites. The Chemical Safety Board in the US had recommended over a decade ago that the EPA adopt stricter safety measures for reactive chemicals, including ammonium nitrate.

Please adopt the CSB recommendations without delay. Move to classify reactive chemicals as “extremely hazardous” in the General Duties clause of Clean Air Act. Address the very pressing, extremely urgent threats to people’s health and safety now.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: A Name Like Shields Can Make You Defensive

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