Fertilizer industry worries explosion will lead to new regs

"There's a concern that someone may react quickly and perhaps try to change things or impose new regulation on top of existing regulation that's already effective," said Kathy Mathers, the vice president of public affairs at The Fertilizer Institute, which represents about 90 percent of the sector.

"There's definitely a very rigorous regulatory structure in place right now. My sense is that the industry is working very hard to comply with existing regulations," she added, noting that the facility owner, West Fertilizer, is not a member of her organization.

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not immediately respond to a request for comment about its regulatory plans in response to the incident.

"While we do not currently know many specifics about this site or the products present, we do know that the vast majority of agricultural retailers take exceptional care in the storage and handling of fertilizer products," said Daren Coppock, president and CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association, in a statement.

"Professional agricultural retailers take exceptional care with these products to store and handle them safely in order to serve their farmer customers and consumers," he said.

Though investigators have yet to discover the cause of the explosion, the Dallas Morning News reported on Thursday that West Fertilizer reported to the EPA that the facility did not pose a risk of explosion.

It did, however, have 54,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia, a common chemical in agriculture fertilizer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "When handled improperly, anhydrous ammonia can be immediately dangerous to life or health" and can cause difficulty breathing.

The chemical is also used to make the drug methamphetamine.

It is not, however, often considered an explosive risk.

The American National Standards Institute, an independent organization that coordinates voluntary standards, said in a 1999 report, "Ammonia is extremely hard to ignite and is a relatively stable compound."

The report adds, "Experiments conducted by a nationally recognized laboratory showed that an ammonia-air mixture in a standard quartz test container does not ignite at less than 1562°F (850°C)."

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says the chemical "can explode if released in an enclosed space with a source of ignition present, or if a vessel containing anhydrous ammonia is exposed to fire."

"We've got a good record of ammonia safety," asserted Mathers. "Ammonia is something that needs to be handled with care."

The West Fertilizer facility was penalized by the EPA in 2006 for failing to implement a risk management plan, according to Dallas station WFAA.

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