Striking a Balance: Chemical Management Can Protect Both Public Safety and Businesses
Two years ago, a fertilizer company in West, Texas, caught on fire. When firefighters attempted to put out the flames, the plant exploded. The accident killed and injured numerous people, as well as inflicted damage on surrounding properties. While the cause of the initial fire remains unknown, investigators say the explosion occurred when the flames reached a stock of improperly stored ammonium nitrate fertilizer.
Earlier this year, Texas legislators introduced multiple bills intended to address the chemical mishandling leading up to the 2013 disaster. Late last month, one of those bills passed the Texas House of Representatives and now awaits a signature from Governor Abbot. Under the new legislation, companies are required to maintain at least a 30-foot distance between ammonium nitrate fertilizer and any flammable substances. In addition, it grants state fire marshals the ability to inspect fertilizer plants and issue citations, which companies would then have to remedy within a set timeframe. Local fire departments will also be allowed to tour facilities in order to devise “fire plans.”
Taking Appropriate Measures with Best Practices Chemical Management
Like similar accidents, the West Fertilizer Company explosion was preventable. Not only was the ammonium nitrate stored in wooden bins, the warehouse — also made of wood — lacked a sprinkler system. The firefighters called onto the scene came to douse the original fire and were not prepared to deal with the chemical hazard. Proper chemical management could have ensured that none of this would have happened.
- Correct storage: Every chemical has specific guidelines for proper storage and safe handling. Anyone who’s worked in a laboratory knows that you can’t store all chemicals on the same shelf. Some have unique properties. They may be corrosive or carcinogenic. Or, like ammonium nitrate, they may be flammable. As a result, innocuous chemicals like sodium chloride can be left on the bench while flammable chemicals would be kept in a metal cabinet rather than a wooden one.
- Inventory location: Legislation liked the one recently passed by the Texas House of Representatives allows state officials to inspect chemical facilities. There is a high probability that included in those inspections will be inquiries about chemical inventory and location. Many chemical management systems allow users to track materials via barcodes. In conjunction with a database, the software can maintain a large amount of information such as location, amounts and expiration dates.
- Safe handling and disposal: The firefighters who came on-scene to deal with the fertilizer plant fire had no idea about the risks involved. Perhaps if they had known what they were dealing with ahead of time, the explosion could have been averted. The safety data sheets that come with chemicals can eliminate such mysteries. In addition to storage information, they detail how to handle the materials safely as well as outline best disposal procedures. One of the advantages of digital chemical management is that information can accessed through the cloud. Emergency personnel can be informed of hazards prior to their arrival on-scene. In the case of the guidelines handed down by the Texas bill, this information can be incorporated into their pre-fire planning.
Given that President Obama established a working group to review federal chemical safety programs, it’s unlikely that the Texas legislation will be the last of its kind to be passed. The concern over public safety and property damage is too high. But with a good chemical management system, companies can navigate these new regulations with ease while also keeping their reputations unmarred in the public eye.
Are you interested in learning how a chemical management system can help your company meet local, state and federal regulations while also keeping your employees and the general public safe? Visit our website today to learn more about how BIOVIA CISPro can help.