Deadly explosion in Texas may prompt review of fertilizer plant regulations

Ag/Outdoor, News

April 19th, 2013 by Ric Hanson

The deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas is prompting questions about regulatory oversight there. In Iowa, officials say fertilizer is only produced at a handful of sites across the state, but many others store fertilizer. Workplace safety in Iowa is overseen by Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement. Administrator Steve Slater says annual inspections aren’t required at most sites that handle fertilizer. “If we have a complaint or a serious injury, they’d certainly fall under our inspection list. But they’re not on a general scheduled inspection list as being a high-hazard industry unless there’s an issue like I just mentioned,” Slater says.

Depending on the circumstances, Slater says the rules may be tighter for plants that process fertilizer. Slater says Iowa has a mostly good track record with fertilizer plants, but the incident in Texas is likely to prompt reviews of regulations nationwide. “This is like the occurrence that just happened in Boston – you can’t predict this stuff – when it does happen, it makes big news and big headlines and provides good opportunities (to discuss) whether we’re doing enough and how we can do things better,” Slater says. Iowa Department of Natural Resources officials say there are at least two existing fertilizer plants in Iowa, located in Fort Dodge and Sergeant Bluff. A third facility has just begun construction in southeast Iowa’s Lee County.

The state Department of Agriculture’s website lists more than 3,000 companies licensed to store, sell or distribute fertilizer in Iowa. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates 700 retail facilities in Iowa that store more than 10,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. Four people died and 15 more were injured when ammonium nitrate exploded at a plant near Sioux City in 1994.

(Radio Iowa)