According to the Fertilizer Institute, Indiana and Illinois are among the top five states in the country that consume fertilizer (the other three being Iowa, Ohio, and Texas). Fertilizer is made up of various chemicals that can be volatile and dangerous both during the manufacturing process as well as during the packaging, transport, storage, and sale of the finished fertilizer product.
More and More Indiana Fertilizer Plants
This part of the country has lots of fertilizer facilities and Indiana is apparently a favorite among fertilizer manufacturers. Recently, there were two big announcements of huge fertilizer facilities being built in Indiana:
- A few months ago, news came to Posey County, Indiana, that Midwest Fertilizer Corporation indeed will be building a nitrogen-based fertilizer plant there near Mt. Vernon, where Midwest Fertilizer can take advantage of the inland water port. The project has been heralded as the biggest economic development project for the entire state of Indiana for the year 2013, and it’s expected to provide thousands of jobs to Indiana construction workers as well as hundreds of permanent jobs to plant workers there in Posey County after the plant is up and running.
- In September 2012, similar news came to Rockport, Indiana, as Ohio Valley Resources announced its plan to build a big nitrogen fertilizer plant, explaining that Rockport’s location was a prime consideration given its access to railway, river, and roadway routes. According to Ohio Valley Resources, the Rockport fertilizer facility will produce (1) 2,420 tons per day of ammonia and (2) 3,000 tons per day of urea ammonium nitrate solution for fertilizer as well as 300 tons per day of diesel exhaust fluid, to be used to reduce emissions in diesel engines.
Which brings us to the risks involved in living near a fertilizer plant, much less working in one. Fertilizer can explode. While fertilizer manufacturing facilities and fertilizer retail plants are not known for routine fires or occasional bursts of chemical flames, when one of these places does have a volatility problem, the results can be devastating for the plant and the surrounding community.
Consider the West, Texas, explosion in 2013 where the facility near Waco exploded, killing 15 people, injuring 160 people, and damaging over 150 buildings. Eighty (80) homes were destroyed in the blast. West was a retail fertilizer facility: the West, Texas facility did not manufacture fertilizer and yet it was still the source of this huge, horrible explosion.
Therefore, it is a concern that so many fertilizer facilities operate in our area — and it’s important that workers on the job in any kind of fertilizer plant as well as those who live or work near an Indiana fertilizer plant know about the dangers that exist here.
If you or a loved one work or live near a Fertilizer Facility, then please be aware of the need for workplace safety standards to be met by the Fertilizer Facility and if anyone has been injured or hurt at a Fertilizer Plant (burn, inhalation of chemicals, etc.), then they may need to address the special circumstances of their injury claim as it pertains to the higher standard of care required of their employer.
OSHA Warns Employers About Fertilizer Industry Dangers
Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced its partnership with both the Agricultural Retailers Association and The Fertilizer Institute to promote safety in fertilizer manufacturing, distributing, and sale, particularly the danger of ammonium nitrate in fertilizer.
Ammonium nitrate has been found to be the cause of the tragic West Fertilizer Plant explosion, with OSHA reporting that the West Fertilizer Company was found to have 24 serious safety violations for exposing workers to fire/explosion hazards of ammonium nitrate and chemical burn and inhalation hazards from anhydrous ammonia storage.
Dear Fertilizer Industry Employer:
On April 17, 2013, a fire began in a warehouse at the West Fertilizer Company in West, Texas. About 20 minutes after the first report of a fire, during the initial mobilization of firefighting personnel, bulk ammonium nitrate stored in an adjacent warehouse exploded, killing 15 including 12 emergency response personnel.
On September 21, 2001, in Toulouse, France, a pile of off-specification granular ammonium nitrate exploded due to unknown causes killing 31 and causing billions of euros in damage.
On April 16, 1947, in Texas City, Texas, the transport vessel Grandcamp loaded with about 2600 tons of bagged ammonium nitrate caught fire. The fire spread to the sealed cargo hold and the ammonium nitrate stored within exploded killing 581 including all but one member of the Texas City fire Department.
These incidents, spanning 66 years, and many others not listed here, highlight the potential hazards involved in storing and handling ammonium nitrate. While millions of pounds of ammonium nitrate are safely shipped, stored, blended, and used nationally every year, these incidents remind us that ammonium nitrate can be deadly when the material is handled or stored poorly and not in accordance with industry safe practices.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is sending this letter to remind you of your responsibility as an employer to prevent these tragic explosions by manufacturing, storing, distributing, and using ammonium nitrate in a safe manner.
In October, OSHA cited the owners of the West Fertilizer Company, with 24 serious safety violations including exposing workers ammonium nitrate fire and explosion hazards. The tragic loss of 15 lives, including 12 first responders, underscores the need for employers who store and handle hazardous substances like ammonium nitrate to ensure the safety of those material — not just for the workers at the facility, but for the lives and safety of emergency responders and nearby residents. A copy of the citations can be found at http://www.osha.gov/pls/imis/establishment.inspection_detail?id=901718.015.
Many information resources exist to assist you. The federal government, industry groups, and consensus standard organizations have all prepared standards or guidelines on safely storing and handling ammonium nitrate.
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.109(i) – Storage of Ammonium Nitrate,
Joint EPA-OSHA-ATF guidance – Chemical Advisory: Safe Storage, Handling, and Management of Ammonium Nitrate,
Joint Institute of Makers of Explosives and National Stone, Sand, and Gravel Association guidance – Safety and Security Guidelines for Ammonium Nitrate,
The National Fire Protection Association Hazardous Materials Code (NFPA 400) chapter 11 on ammonium nitrate.
You can find these and other resources on a web page OSHA prepared for your use. Go to http://www.osha.gov/dep/fertilizer_industry/index.html. The resources on the web page provide employers with the necessary requirements and recommendations for safely storing and handling ammonium nitrate including:
Bulk storage to prevent contamination
Storage to prevent fires from impacting piles of ammonium nitrate
Storage building separation and siting
OSHA enforcement personnel will enforce the requirements of 29 CFR 1910.109(i) for storage of ammonium nitrate including those facilities in non-explosives industries. OSHA standards set minimum safety and health requirements; the standards do not preclude employers from adopting more stringent requirements.
I am calling on you today to take the necessary steps to prevent tragic ammonium nitrate incidents. If you are a small- or medium-sized business, free consultation programs are available to assist you in complying with OSHA standards. If you have further questions please contact your local OSHA area or state plan office. More information is available at www.osha.gov.
David Michaels, PhD, MPH