December 2, 2021

Agencies Issue Advisory on Improper Storage of Hazardous Chemicals

EPA, OSHA, and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have issued a safety advisory (PDF) informing chemical warehouses and distribution facilities that they must ensure safe management of hazardous chemicals stored on their premises and comply with applicable regulations. The advisory lists several common concerns with chemical storage, including the failure to account for chemicals in all containers (such as aerosol cans, cylinders, and storage tanks) that could be affected by a fire or other emergency; failure to periodically inspect tank systems; failure to sufficiently coordinate with emergency responders; storage of incompatible chemicals in close proximity to each other; inadequate space for emergency responders to access chemicals in the event of an accidental release; and inadequate secondary containment to contain spills or leaks.

The advisory identifies ammonium nitrate, which is used as fertilizer, as a chemical of concern. Recent fatal incidents involving improper storage of ammonium nitrate include the 2013 tragedy in West, Texas, when an explosion at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility resulted in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of twelve firefighters and three members of the public.

In August 2020, an explosion at a facility in the Port of Beirut, Lebanon, that stored approximately 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate caused an estimated 200 deaths and 6,000 injuries. According to a paper in Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, the explosion was “the largest non-nuclear blast in modern history” and resulted in more than $10 billion in infrastructure damage and displaced more than 300,000 people. The journal Nature reported that the blast was “so powerful that it was heard more than 200 kilometers away in Cyprus.”

The advisory summarizes applicable requirements from various laws, rules, and regulations covering chemical storage. These include relevant sections from the Clean Air Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, which EPA enforces; OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) standard; the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards enforced by CISA; and the Maritime Transportation Security Act enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard. For more information, review the advisory on EPA’s website (PDF).

Related: An article in the October 2021 Synergist explains how industrial hygienists can help businesses comply with OSHA’s PSM standard.