On Tuesday, the Chemical Safety Board released its preliminary findings concerning last April’s explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, citing a snowballing lack of regulation at all levels of government. The explosion killed 14 people, injuring more than 200, leveling the plant and damaging hundreds of homes nearby.
The explosion was caused by hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate being stored at the facility—a significant danger in itself—and damage was exacerbated by lack of specific regulation or directives for dealing with fires. At the state level, Texas has no fire code, and McLennan County, where the plant was located, had no emergency response plan for the plant.
Firefighters at the plant were not aware of the explosion hazard that the large stores of ammonium nitrate posed. Had they been aware, they may have followed recommendations to flood the fire from a distance.
Additionally, according to The New York Times:
Fertilizer-grade ammonium nitrate is not classified as an explosive in the United States. In 2002, the Chemical Safety Board recommended that so-called reactive chemicals like ammonium nitrate be included in safety regulations used by two federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Neither agency had adopted the recommendations at the time of the explosion.
The handling of ammonium nitrate in the United States was also contrasted with the more heavily monitored regulations in Europe. For instance, the U.K. recommens storing the chemical in a “single story, dedicated, well-ventilated buildings that are constructed from materials that will not burn.” The chemicals at the West Fertilizer Company were stored in a wooden warehouse in wooden bins.
In terms of zoning, no level of American government has zoning regulations for the location of ammonium nitrate stores near residential areas. More than 1,300 facilities in the U.S. store the chemical.